Natural Play Environments


This blog was featured on The Modern Parent Segment of The Rhode Show! It was filmed on location at The Children's Workshop in Pawtucket, RI where we have our very own natural playground. Click here to watch this great episode:


When you expose children to nature and natural play you open a whole new world of learning. Children are able to touch, smell, listen, taste, climb and explore. Each new discovery is an adventure. Something new waits each time your child goes out to play. The learning possibilities are endless. Just open the door and watch your child/children explore!

· Children should spend more time outdoors then indoors

First; the benefit of preventing obesity, so many children spend less and less time outdoors. When children are outdoors, they improve in their physical development and also can improve their visual –spatial learning and observation skills. When children play outside in natural environments it encourages confidence and appropriate risk taking. Do you remember as a child climbing a tree, digging for worms, or jumping in a puddle? Where did that all go? The more we move children away from outdoors the more it becomes extinct.

· The Senses

Touch- children like to feel grass between their toes, play with sand, and feel rough rocks and soft ones, leaves that are fuzzy and ones that are smooth. Smells, adding flowers or building a living t-pee, all you need are some thin branches some sunflower seeds and a plant or flower that climbs. Nature will take its course but the ends a result is a living fort where your child can go in and out, play house, build a pretend campfire, and smell the flowers. Measure the plants as they grow or plant a garden and taste different vegetables. In the winter collect pine cones feel and smell them. Build a fort out of sticks. You can even use old Tupperware to build ice blocks outside, just freeze the water and pop out. Use snow the same way with old utensils and pretend cooking. The main idea is to let children go outside regardless of the weather and play and explore.

· Making playscapes out of items found in your yard.

Many parents and or teachers will say this sounds good but where do I buy it? You don’t need to buy anything. Making logs out of trees that either fell down or need to be cut down. These are great for balance beams, benches, stumps for seats climbing or cookies, round disc that children can hop on walk on or stack. It just takes a little time and some tools. You can either build or buy flower boxes, put either plants in them for your child to help nurture or grow or use them to collect or sort items from the outdoors. What you make of the outdoors and the space you have is up to you. However, be creative with items found steps away from your door is the best kind.

· Lost cost or free items to set aside for your children to explore with

Wheelbarrows or wagons are great addition to outdoor playscapes. Children love to fill, pull, and dump. As young as a toddler and up will enjoy doing this. Use old or new buckets, containers for filling, collecting, stacking, for mud, snow and more.

Children can use all types of things found outside leaves, herbs, and different concoctions for magical fragrant or just mixing.

Shovels and spades for simple mud pie making, snow digging and projects.When you expose your children to playing with natural materials in the early years, it prepares them for playing with ideas behind the desk. We get out Scientist, doctors, explores and astronauts from letting our children use their creative side. So when they become adults they can still be creative in a constructive and productive way as an adult.


“Every Child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, frogs, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, pine-cones, rocks to climb and roll, sand, snakes, and bugs, any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best  part of Education” – Luther Burbank

Tracy Martin-Turgeon has been in the field of early childhood education for 22 years.  She started with The Children's Workshop in September 1999 as an assistant director for and has since served as director, regional, and currently as a VP regional overseeing seven facilities throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Tracy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Early Childhood education from the University of RI. In her role, Tracy enjoys most supporting and helping the staff, families, and children she works with every day. When she is not working, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and spending time with her husband and children.