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Beyond Physical Activity: The Importance of Play and Nature-Based Play Spaces for Children’s Health and Development


The reduction of child obesity continues to be a challenge worldwide. Research indicates that playing outdoors, particularly in natural play spaces, boosts children’s physical activity, potentially decreasing childhood obesity. We present evidence that natural play spaces also provide for more diverse forms of play for children of varying ages and competencies. This is crucial because play spaces designed expressly for physical activity may not increase physical activity among less active children. Moreover, when researchers only examine physical activity in play, they overlook the valuable contributions that play makes to other aspects of children’s health and development. To enhance research on children and their play environments, we introduce the theory of play affordances. To assist in the creation of more natural play spaces, we describe the Seven Cs, an evidence-based approach for designing children’s play spaces that promotes diverse play. We end with some preliminary insights from our current research using the Seven Cs to illustrate the connections between play, nature, and children’s healthy development.

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Conflict of Interest

Susan Herrington and Mariana Brussoni declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article contains information from the Risky Play Meets Nature Play study, which involved human subjects. Consent was given by the parents of children observed and with the Early Childhood Educators interviewed. The Children’s and Women’s Health Centre of British Columbia Research Ethics Board approved these procedures.

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Correspondence to Susan Herrington.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Economy and Environment

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Herrington, S., Brussoni, M. Beyond Physical Activity: The Importance of Play and Nature-Based Play Spaces for Children’s Health and Development. Curr Obes Rep 4, 477–483 (2015).

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  • Playground
  • Environment
  • Design
  • Landscape architecture
  • Obesity
  • Natural