Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA)


Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning

Committee Chair(s)

Keith M. Christensen


Keith M. Christensen


Michael L. Timmons


Shelley L. K. Lindauer


Play is an important part of childhood that helps to develop social skills and ensure proper mental and physical development. There is a growing concern among parents and play researchers that technology and urbanization are limiting children’s access to the natural environment. This is encouraging play designers to create playgrounds that are based more on natural elements, such as water, plants, hills, tree groves, and rock outcrops, rather than manufactured equipment. Because environments can affect the behaviors that occur in them, a growing number of studies have focused on how naturalized play environments impact the development of children as they play.

However, few studies have addressed how people who are interacting with naturalized playgrounds view them. This thesis discusses the findings of a qualitative research project that aimed to understand if naturalized playgrounds at mostly educational facilities were being viewed as viable play environments by examining supervisors’ and teachers’ perceptions of how the playground was being used.

The naturalized playgrounds in this study contained about two thirds natural elements and one third manufactured elements. Most participants in the study felt that the term "naturalized" adequately characterized the play facility under their supervision. They also showed an active interest in furthering their education about naturalized playgrounds and saw their role as a facilitator of play.

Naturalized playgrounds were viewed by participants as providing viable play options for children and, in most cases, a better option than traditional playgrounds due to the open-ended play opportunities the natural elements promoted. Participants in this study saw the heavy and continual use of natural elements promoting benefits such as a connection to nature, educational opportunities, and creating a dynamic playground that was interesting all year.

When looking at how children used the environment, the perception was that a less formally structured playground provided an environment that everyone could enjoy. This also promoted more creative play that allowed for many types of play as opposed to the mainly physical play of traditional playgrounds. Data also showed that individual elements tend to promote specific types of play, which makes having a broad diversity of elements important.




This work made publicly available electronically on June 4, 2012.