Bright Ideas

New Guidelines to Bring Nature Play to Every Community

National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative

Michelle Mathis/Learning Landscapes

This month, National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative released Nature Play & Learning Places: Creating and Managing Places Where Children Engage with Nature. The guidelines define nature play places; explain how to plan, design, and manage them; and explore ways to bring them to children and families in every community. 
Nature Play & Learning Places is a project of the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative at the College of Design, North Carolina State University. The guidelines draw from principal author Robin Moore’s extensive landscape design experience, case studies of 12 nature play areas across the country, and contributions from the members of a national steering committee and a technical advisory committee, which consisted of representatives from more than 20 national organizations. The project was funded by the US Forest Service. 
“Playing outdoors in nature gives children the chance to develop a connection with nature and wildlife, and is good for their overall well-being,” said Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education and Training at National Wildlife Federation. “These guidelines will make it easier to incorporate nature play environments in every playground, schoolyard, and childcare center.” 
Nature Play & Learning Places is a tool for those who manage areas where children gather, including park and recreation professionals, educators, urban planners, and developers. The guidelines explain how to design a nature play and learning area and provide detailed descriptions of activity setting designs including entrances, pathways, plants, and permanent play structures. Guidance is also provided for managing soil, plants, and other natural elements at nature play areas, and for managing risk, including an eight-step risk management protocol. 
“Ensuring children have the chance to regularly experience and interact with nature is a priority for local parks and recreation," said Barbara Tulipane, President and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association. “With these guidelines in hand, park and recreation departments can design, build and maintain successful nature play areas in any type of community for all people to enjoy.” 
The guidelines will also be helpful to managers of state parks, national parks, and other public lands. “Nature play and learning places are an innovative and fun way to connect families with our public lands,” said Fran Mainella, former director of the National Park Service and a visiting scholar at Clemson University. “They can help us improve children’s health and learning and encourage appreciation for wildlife and natural systems.” 
To download and read the full text of the guidelines, visit