Children on playgrounds with natural elements such as logs, trees and flowers play more than twice as long and engage in more aerobic and bone- and muscle-strengthening activities, according to a study from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's Department of Kinesiology.
The study is the first of its kind in the United States, said Dawn Coe, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies.
"Natural playgrounds have been popping up around the country but there was nothing conclusive on if they work," she said in an interview with ScienceDaily. "Now, we know."
The setting for the study was UT’s Early Learning Center. Coe began to observe children in June 2011 when the center had traditional wood and plastic equipment. She tracked how often kids used each apparatus, the intensity of their activity and how much time they spent on the porch area in the shade.
Through renovations, the Early Learning Center staff turned the area into a “natural playscape,” according to Coe. They built slides into the side of a hill, planted trees, added logs and tree stumps, installed a creek and landscaped the area with rocks and flowers.
Follow up observations revealed drastic differences. Children spent time jumping off logs, watering the plants around the creek and utilitizing more motor skills. They were less sedentary and also used the porch areas less.
Coe plans to submit a manuscript of the study for publication.