Unschooling in 2015: Our Year
Parenting / Unschooling

The Best Playground

Confession time: I rarely take my kids to the playground.

By rarely, I mean I actually cannot remember the last time we went right now. And no, we don’t have a shortage of parks around us, we actually have a lot. There is a really great playground that is only a 2 minute walk away from our house. But we hardly ever go. Sometimes I think about it and consider that we should really go more, I mean you’re supposed to take your kids to the playground right? That’s what ‘good’ mums do! But honestly, I find it quite boring. eek! And indoor play centres? I will be happy to never have to go to another one of them in my life. Have I failed playground duty over here?

The Best Playground

Thankfully, I was recently reassured by my 6 year old that I have not. After one of our days spent playing outside in nature with friends at a nearby creek she said to me ‘The creek is kind of like a big park, except without stuff to play on, and you get to play on whatever you want instead, and climb things and do whatever you want, it’s way more fun’. And I thought to myself, how true that is! Playing in natural places must be much more interesting than at an unchanging playground with the standard equipment. No wonder I find playgrounds boring these days, they are not the same as when I was young. You can’t even have a regular see-saw because it’s too ‘dangerous’. But outside, in nature, there is a freedom that is hard to replicate.

Children can take risks, find out what their bodies are capable of, and practice problem solving.

The Best Playground

I see so much more creativity and imaginative play when we play in nature. Nature is the ultimate open-ended material. Sticks become wands and rocks become mountains.

The Best Playground

Even as an adult you may notice how much clearer and rejuvenated you feel after some time outside, more able to concentrate.

Outside you have endless space, and a chance to be independent.

The Best Playground

And by getting to know and appreciate nature, you’re more likely to grow up to be an adult who wants to take care of it.

The Best Playground

Time in nature is good for everyone. But time in nature for children is vital. Children need to get dirty, run freely, catch bugs, climb trees, roll in the grass, and feel the fresh air and sunshine on their faces.

The Best Playground

Time at the playground? Well that’s fun too. But not absolutely necessary. Children are spending more and more time indoors these days, we just need to get them outside. And you can do that anywhere. You don’t need fancy playgrounds and the latest and greatest equipment. Children have fantastic imaginations and can make their own fun wherever they are. Some trees, grass, sand, or water is truly enough.

I’m grateful now that instead of the playground we spend much more time out in nature. My kids see how important, beautiful, fun, magical, interesting, and inspiring our natural world is. They ask often to go play at the creek or beach, and rarely ask to go to a playground.

Give me nature over a playground any day.

The Best Playground




April 7, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Thank you for this. Im not keen on many parks and mostly take my kids as they ask for the swings (theyre 3 and 16 months). As for indoor playareas, i just dont enjoy them. I dont feel like there are any mums there i would have much in common with. They all seem to just want to chat, ignore their children completely and so mamy kids are told off for just being kids. I go every now and then at quieter time (and as we will be homeschooling too i can choose the quiet times every time). My daughter, 3, has a few emotional problems and auditory problems so she gets so overwhelmed and therefore upsetby too many kids and noise. Thank you for reassuring me its not just me. Xx

April 7, 2015 at 8:54 pm

Thank you!!! We rarely go to play grounds (and for many reasons I never take my girls to indoor play centres) they are out of the way for us. My girls are excited by them but there is some great outdoor play equipment at the venue for our play group that gives them their fix and we try to spend lots of time being in our own space in nature (on walks, in the garden, in the creek and with the horses). I often think I should take them to play grounds but don’t feel like I should your perspective gives me lots of reasons to feel heaps better about it. πŸ™‚

Kelsey Padgett
April 7, 2015 at 11:51 pm

I so wish we had a river or steam like this by our house! We went to the park yesterday and I get bored hahah, my 2-year-old loves to go to the park, but I think she enjoys the walk to the park even more. I have her decide the route we take and we pick up sticks, stones, look at bugs, wave to people, pretend were on a hunt for something, etc. Thank you for sharing this!

April 8, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Gorgeous post and gorgeous photos! I admit I like playgrounds because I often get to meet new people there πŸ˜‰ but I definitely agree that children love nature -without all the manmade equipment that isn’t necessary for play in the first place.

April 8, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Thank you for this! While we love the park, and occasionally soft play, you have inspired me to let my little girl play in more interesting places. It’s just starting spring here so I look forward to an adventurous summer πŸ™‚

April 8, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Amen! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been so disappointed recently because they added a play structure to the best park around–best for me because it had wide grassy spaces, huge trees, and a wide shallow river for wading–and no play structure. Now the kids just want to use the equipment! My childhood was spent in the woods, and that’s what I want my daughter and the kids I teach to have.

April 9, 2015 at 2:59 am

This is such a good reminder! I love seeing children use their imaginations!! Gorgeous pictures too!

April 9, 2015 at 9:56 am

I love this so much. I grew up being outside a lot, and I still love being outdoors. When I have kids I’d like them to have those experiences, too :).

Out of curiosity – how do you balance making sure that your kids are ok/safe (near the water, for example) without hovering? Do you just watch them from a distance? Because I think that’s something I would struggle with a little :).

    April 9, 2015 at 10:25 am

    We generally just watch from a distance, yeah. If the water is a bit deeper we need to watch more closely (especially the ones who can’t swim yet), but generally it’s pretty shallow. And they mostly stick together in a group and call out if something happens if they need us. They’re really very capable when just left to it actually, and that is fantastic to watch πŸ™‚

April 9, 2015 at 9:57 am

I love this post and often wonder how you go about how others find these seemingly magical natural spaces, that have public access and that are suitable for free exploration and play (ie. no roaring rivers or steep ravines). I really must try to find out if there is anything close to where we live.

April 10, 2015 at 10:16 am

I love all your posts and am seriously considering homeschooling in future, and I couldn’t agree more about the magic, beauty and importance of nature. As a child (and now as an adult) I loved being outdoors. But I have a impossible job getting my 3 year old to leave the house! Almost every day after lunch (he goes 9am – 12 to a kindergarten four days a week) I will ask him whether he wants to do something outdoors – ride his bike, play ball, go to the park / playground, go on an ‘adventure’, etc etc and he almost always will say ‘no – i want to stay in the house’. I don’t understand it! Of course we have some toys in the house – but not gadgety / electronic / mind-dulling toys, and he is almost never allowed to watch cartoons but he does LOVE his train set and being read to (which is not a bad thing of course!). So I end up trying to cajole and plead with him to come outside and find something that he’s willing to do (often washing the car works and ‘making a mess with paint’) but I wish it wasn’t so hard and that I didn’t need to provide an ‘activity’ to persuade him to be outside. I find it baffling that he doesn’t want to be outside exploring nature, climbing trees, picking up sticks etc without any additional props. Unfortunately we don’t have a private garden, and we live in Florida so the nature is kind of boring unless you count potentially coming across an alligator (sorry, Floridians, I’m from a place that has hills and seasons!!). Do you have any advice? Thank you so much.

    April 10, 2015 at 10:19 am

    I should mention that he’s the same on Fridays and weekends so I don’t think it’s just because he’s over tired after school…the only difference on weekends is that he’ll go to the beach with his dad (I hate the beach – I really shouldn’t be living in Florida). Also to be clear even though I’m negative in this post about the nature around here, I’m always very positive around him – always pointing out interesting birds and flowers etc…

      April 10, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Lois! That’s a tough one! Have you tried just not really asking him? I don’t mean forcing him to go if he really doesn’t want to, lol. But maybe just saying that YOU feel like going for a picnic or something. Or what about meeting up with friends somewhere naturey so he can be encouraged by other kids and they can go on little adventures together?

        April 10, 2015 at 10:10 pm

        Thanks Sara. I always try to give him choices and as much control over his life as possible but you’re right, maybe in this instance I need to try and take control more! And I will definitely try to arrange some picnics with friends away from playgrounds – hopefully they won’t need to much convincing – great suggestion. Thanks again for this and all your posts.

          April 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

          Hi Lois,
          I was reading your reply and thought I could share my experience with my 3 year old and see if this can help you.
          The other day I wanted to take him to the movies, and by mistake, I asked him. He said “No, I want to stay home”. Sometimes it has been the same thing about going outside for a walk, to play outside with the neighbors….
          So I talked with one of my older sisters the other day about it and she said to me something very interesting: “kids live in the present moment!” If he is having fun with his train, with his books, with his toys, etc., he is not going to want to go somewhere else if asked to…. So the best thing to do is just to tell him that you two ARE going to the movies, that you ARE going outside, that you two ARE going to the creek, for a walk, etc. as you do when you are taking to school, or the groceries, or to run errands… This doesn’t mean we are forcing them, but we kind of take the lead for them, as adults, as their caregivers… Then, when you are outside, you can ask him the route he wants to take, etc… You let him be more in control, you give him the chance to choose from the options you provide, but you are always the leader, making the big decisions….
          I hope this helps you, as it helped me tremendously to make it more conscious… I guess I was doing it in other areas, but not in this specific regard!
          Thanks in advance for reading!

April 10, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Love these photos! We are lucky to have our own creek and also our Nan’s ‘farm’ to explore on as a family! Nature play is so important!

Karen Bolliger
April 10, 2015 at 10:09 pm

Hi! I just wanted to suggest to Lois that perhaps you could entice your son to go outside by taking a rug and some of his books (and yours!) and other toys outside. Maybe with a snack. And you can relax together on the rug. Then he might gravitate to other outdoor activity once he’s there. That’s worked with my daughter who can be very reluctant to go outside.

    April 10, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks Karen, that’s a great suggestion too. I will definitely try to do that. Thanks for sharing.

      April 12, 2015 at 10:38 am

      Yes yes yes! My son always wants to bring his dump truck and I let him! He pushes it, he carries small rocks in it, or pours sand, dirt or stuck in it… The main thing is to go outside! Once outside, they can start exploring!

        April 19, 2015 at 9:26 pm

        Hi Gaby,

        I just wanted to say thanks for your comment here and above, it’s certainly given me something to think about!

        I managed to get outside quite a few times last week through the let’s have a snack outside on a blanket approach and letting that evolve, Also by starting off doing something in the garage with the door open…then it was a small step over the the threshold outside!

        Thanks again to everyone for their suggestions.

        It’s also so interesting to see the comments about climbing frames. I’ve always been discouraged that my son doesn’t seem to be very “brave”/adventurous on climbing structures (or trees) now I have a different way of thinking about that too!

        Thanks again Sara for writing this post, it’s been very thought-provoking and inspiring for me!

Gaby W.
April 12, 2015 at 10:44 am

Thank you Sara for this post! Beautiful creek that you guys have there to explore! We have one very very close to our house but it’s not as clean as yours. I take my kids for hikes but t’s impossible to get to the water because of all the grown weeds….. And about the playgrounds, I agree and my son would agree too! If we go to a park, he will play in the sand, run, explore except play on the play structure!! A very wise little man indeed! LOL

April 19, 2015 at 4:10 pm

I couldn’t agree more. I grew up in rural Michigan (USA). Playgrounds to me always seemed like they weren’t really part of “country life”. As a kid, I felt VERY strongly about being away from any kind of city life as a general rule. Yes, school, shopping, special occasions, but outside of that I really disliked places that weren’t “out in the country”. I’ve married someone who isn’t into rural living, so I don’t at all live a rural life with my kids. We do however live very close to the ocean in San Clemente, CA. Also, there are state parks, and protected wetland areas. I have places to go, but we have to get in the car for a short time to and from (I think this still counts). I don’t have any yard, but my kids play outside everyday for at least 2 hours+ with the neighbor kids.
Thank you for this blog. You really inspire me!!!
Tallie Allen

June 24, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Such a wonderful post… we have a park about 50m from our house… and we have a wonderful National Park with bushwalks, waterfalls and so many other treasures… we usually head to the bush!! It’s just so inviting we cannot resist!

October 14, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Fabulous post. Children do not need artificial stimulation ?

May 15, 2016 at 12:40 pm

We have a lovely playground and the kids are bored in five minutes and want to go to the trees, grass, tracks and pond (man made sanctuary but step up from park). I find we are much more refreshed after going down the creek – I have the kind of kid that runs up the slide(thoughtfully, he has etiquette), climbs on top of frame work and hangs upside down alot and is mostly bare foot. I have had plenty of “looks” in my park time.

November 20, 2016 at 12:05 am

I so wish we had place like this around here! (city in South Africa) I loved this type of play when I was a child (in America). I have a list of “natural playgrounds” in mind that I want my kids to experience one day! It really is some of the best play πŸ™‚

January 31, 2022 at 1:11 pm

I wish I could get out in nature more with my daughter. She is a wheelchair user, though, and most of the trails near us are inaccessible. Even our back yard, steeply sloped, is hard to manage. She loves the swings at the park and meeting other children there. Don’t be too hard on parks–not every child can jump from rock to rock in a creek but they can adore the water at the park splash pad; they may not be able to climb a tree but can enjoy the view from the top of a play structure with a ramp.

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