If you’ve been following the SOuL journey for a while you’ll have noticed that we have a strong preference for natural materials and flow in our installations. We have good reason, beyond the fact that they look beautiful. Let’s have a look at why natural materials benefit pupils’ learning and wellbeing.
A powerful nature connection
Children directly connect with nature when they touch the curve of a branch or knot along a ladder made from wood. They feel every bump and grain along a wooden rail or scoop up handfuls of wood chips to pour through a funnel. Studies tell us the simple act of seeing, smelling and touching wood can relieve stress and anxiety for adults and children alike. We also see it in real life, every day!
This is powerful stuff! And it’s easy to tap into, simply by taking children outside in the first place. When we weave nature into the everyday places where children play and learn such as playgrounds, traverse walls, reading gardens and outdoor classrooms, it goes a long way.
Being in and around nature is good for our mental health, full stop. Therefore, the use of natural materials in our installations, that are designed to get children and adults to spend more time outside, makes complete sense.
Meet the creatures
Natural areas attract natural friends! Insects and other critters are more likely to stop by or make their homes in natural play and learning environments. This is especially so in wood chipped areas, ponds or wood with bark. Children come across them and have meaningful interactions with living beings as they play. It fosters curiosity and furthers learning. Interactions with wildlife deepen those all important nature connections for children.
Less plastic, less end of life waste
The materials we use for playscapes and classrooms matter for our environment too. Rubberised surfaces, plastics, paints and artificial grass often end up in landfill when they are worn out. They can rarely be reused and do not break down easily. Whereas natural materials can often be repurposed, or at the very least have a smaller environmental impact when they are finally discarded.
Building with natural materials starts the conversation about sustainability with schools, and between teachers and pupils. This is important because we need children to care about our planet and its future. At the end of the day, if we carry on the way we are going there will be no (or at least a very different) planet left for us to enjoy. We need generations of nature-loving, environmentally conscious young people.
No distractions, more play
Natural playscapes and our other outdoor spaces don’t come with gimmicky games, bright colours and novelty flash in the pan elements. Instead you see balance beams, tunnels, hidey holes and other spaces for creative play. Children are able to get stuck into creative and open ended play. This is the real magic of play that we all talk about, the kind that develops children’s brains. It is crucial to support the development of children’s social skills, as well as problem solving and critical thinking abilities.
In addition, natural elements help children learn to take calculated risks and get to grips with their physical movements. Natural play and learning spaces give children space to be children as they learn and grow.
Durable and safe
The materials we use stand the test of time. We aim for UK sourced hardwoods wherever we can, or those with good carbon footprints and sustainability marks when we can’t. Sometimes we use modified wood like Accoya, which has an extremely long life and therefore a small carbon footprint. We work to avoid chemicals as much as possible and hardwoods can be kept free of chemical preservatives. It’s just another reason why we love to use wood as our base material!
Listen to the research
Biophilic design is all the rage in the world of architecture as people search to create natural connections in their homes and workplaces. Nature is proven to make us calmer, happier and even smarter! We ask, why should schools and their outdoor play and learning spaces be any different? The places children use should follow this philosophy too (especially when those places are outdoors). We aim to bring natural materials and interactions to the forefront of design for learning and place spaces.
Natural materials really do have a positive impact on our aesthetic and our wellbeing, so we say bring on more natural focused playscapes and outdoor spaces. It’s what we do best and how children learn best too!
Send us a message here to start a conversation about your outdoor space at school or other organisation.