To increase opportunities for natural play, physical activity and healthy childhood activity.
Play is recognised as a vital activity for healthy child development and SDCC needed to find a way to bring these benefits into the neighbourhoods where children were growing up.
Our solution was to start developing natural playgrounds. They offer increased health benefits to children, they are environmentally friendly using predominantly natural materials and they add to the attractiveness of their settings. Additionally, they offer children a chance to interact with nature and because they are landscaped into their environments they are generally acceptable to residents.
A public consultation was carried out in communities across the region which looked the value of play for children’s health and especially about what the key elements were. We interviewed people of all ages to find out about how childhood has changes and how people played in the past before all of the plastic equipment, surfacing and safety culture emerged.
All of this information was distilled into design briefs and tender documentation which was presented and discussed at a conference on natural play. We further developed detailed design briefs and conceptual designs to aid tendering companies. We specified that we wanted natural materials where possible.
The resulting play spaces were installed at a fraction of the cost of the plastic and metal alternatives and with far less of an environmental impact.

Resources needed

Development: Time of Executive Parks Superintendent and Sports and Recreation Officer x 1 month, 2 x consultants /facilitators X 1 week, advice from Centre For Excellence in Universal Design x 1 day
Roll Out: 30-40 meetings x 2.5 hours. Each meeting required 3 council staff to work as facilitators

Evidence of success

At every location we measured hundreds of hours of play per week previously empty green spaces. The children are interacting with nature instead of sterile playgrounds. The new spaces use local natural materials which are also a fraction of the cost of the more environmentally damaging alternatives and we are doing so with the support of communities across the region. Visit times to play areas have dramatically increased as people spend more time in the more natural environment.

Difficulties encountered

A major effort was required to convince the public that natural playspaces were suitable in residential areas. A lot of effort went into educating the tendering companies about the natural play concept and in bringing our own maintenance staff on board as they were used to more sterile areas.

Potential for learning or transfer

Since the first playspaces were completed we have interest from other local authorities across the country. As well as speaking to parks staff around the country we have been invited to speak at an International Play Conference in Dublin. One issue we are particularly proud of is our work on making natural play accessible to children with disabilities. Children of all abilities benefit from contact with nature and we have discovered innovative ways of allowing this. Children with disabilities can access our sand pits, water play areas, swings and slides and engage in imaginative and constructive play. Children with autism benefit greatly from our sensory play and the informal layout of our play spaces.
Natural play is good for children, good for the environment and is a very cost effective alternative to the traditional playground. This approach is should be easily replicated in any jurisdiction.

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Main institution
South Dublin County Council
Southern and Eastern, Ireland (Éire)
Start Date
January 2014
End Date


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