Natural Play Environments for Montessori Schools

montessori playground ideas

What to consider when designing your Montessori school’s natural play space.

What’s the hallmark of playing in a natural setting? A child whose curiosity and imagination leads them on a wild adventure of fun and learning. From watching worms in the soil to balancing on a log, nature play is child-initiated and child-directed. It’s this child-centered approach to play that has caught the attention of Montessori schools, whose approach to education is built upon a child’s natural eagerness to learn and their ability to initiate learning. How, though, do you create a natural play environment? After all, isn’t creating (or building) a natural play environment contradictory? Much like a Montessori classroom is carefully prepared by a teacher for learning, an outdoor play environment is carefully designed, beckoning the child’s innate desire to learn and explore. From the entrance, to the pathways, to the choice of play equipment and vegetation, each element is purposely selected and placed in a cohesive design that allows for multiple opportunities of learning.

A well-designed outdoor environment combines natural and manufactured elements, creating the perfect balance of natural and planned learning opportunities. Manufactured play equipment, although not truly reflective of nature, can benefit your children greatly and should be considered when planning your outdoor environment. An outdoor music area or an outdoor art area provide great sensorial and cultural opportunities and, if requested in earth tones, can easily blend into the environment. Thinking beyond the scope of traditional play equipment, manufactured elements can also include nature-inspired products such as faux stumps or faux stone planters. Faux natural elements are a great addition to your natural environment and can prolong the life of your play environment (as true natural elements tend to deteriorate over time).

Elements to Consider in a Natural Play Environment for Montessori Schools

So, what specific elements should you consider when planning your natural play environment? Most natural elements will be dependent upon your environment’s space; however, with great planning and the help of a landscape architect or a Grounds For Play Design Consultant any of the below items can easily be incorporated into your existing design.

  • Trees
  • Bushes
  • Flowers
  • Tall Grasses
  • Gardens
  • Hills
  • Sand
  • Water
  • Small Simulated Creek Bed
  • Trails and Pathways
  • Natural Balance Beam
  • Tree Stumps
  • Tree Cookies
  • Stones and Pebbles

A child could play for hours with the features above. However, what if a slide was incorporated into the hill or you provided your children with a bird feeder in the garden? The addition of manufactured elements and loose parts, such as flower planters or wooden blocks, offer additional learning opportunities and enhance the overall atmosphere of your outdoor space. Below are some great items that will complement the nature that surrounds them.

  • Cedar Pergola
  • Butterfly House
  • Bird Feeder
  • Seating (Cedar Benches, Faux Log Stumps)
  • Tables
  • Faux Log Tunnel
  • Faux Stone Planter
  • Faux Stone Cottage
  • Faux Log Cabin
  • Planters
  • Willow Huts and Willow Tunnels
  • Wooden Blocks
  • Mini Bricks
  • Wood Decks
  • Wood Play Structure
  • Draping Frame
  • Bridges
  • Shade

Products to Add to Your Montessori Playground

Combine the Elements in a Cohesive Design

Now that you’ve decided which elements to include, how do you combine them into a cohesive design? With the help of a landscape architect or Grounds For Play Design Consultant, separate your play area into different activity zones; not only do these zones ensure safe play, they provide specific locations for different kinds of play. Zones that lend themselves to different levels of noise should be separated, while zones with similar types of play should be kept in close proximity or directly next to each other. Separate your zones by using tall bamboo grass, climbing vine planters, or log edging and connect your zones using winding paver or grass paths. Use wooden signs to clearly identify each area. Some zones to consider are:

  • Sand Play
  • Water Play
  • Cozy Corner
  • Garden
  • Shaded/Rest Zone
  • Open Space Zone
  • Social Zone
  • Infant and Toddler Zone

With a child-centered approach to play, natural play environments are a great addition to any location but are the perfect addition to Montessori schools. With careful planning and designing, your natural outdoor play environment can be a great extension to your indoor learning environment.

How Grounds For Play can Help

Interested in turning your current playground into a natural play environment? A Grounds For Play Design Consultant can help. Contact Grounds For Play by calling 800.552.7529.

What is a Natural Playground?
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