When a nature play & learning area is being considered, the issue of safety if often raised: Do natural play & learning spaces adhere to normal standards and guidelines for playground safety? While the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Public Playground Safety Handbook does not directly address nature play spaces, many standards for conventional equipment can be applied to similar structures made of natural materials (e.g., conventional “stepping forms” vs. “stump steppers;” conventional balance beams vs. log balance beams, etc.), and surfacing regulations (safe surfacing type & depth based on the fall height of any play element) are equivalent. A number of conventional playground companies also now offer “nature themed” playground equipment that adheres to safety standards, as well as guides to playground equipment grants. Certified Playground Safety Inspectors (CPSI) can apply CPSC guidelines and relevant ASTM Standards for Public Playground Safety and Surfacing to natural play & learning spaces and offer advice on preventive maintenance.
Recently, the Natural Learning Initiative and National Wildlife Federation, along with a consortium of diverse experts, developed design guidelines (noted below) that can be used to safely create, utilize and maintain children’s outdoor play and learning areas. These guidelines identify the core elements of a nature play space and demonstrate how to address management, liability and accessibility issues. Remember: All materials and equipment in a play space should be age appropriate for the children who use it to ensure safety and maximum skill development. Adults should supervise outdoor play spaces and children should always be visible to at least one adult.U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Public Playground Safety Handbook Nature Play Spaces and Safety Info-Sheet National Guidelines: Nature Play & Learning Spaces (downloadable) National Guidelines: Nature Pay & Learning Places (order print copy) Check the Safety of Your School’s Conventional Playground Accessible Design & Play Areas