Natural Play Area Design

Learn More

Backyard Play Ideas


Nature Play Resources

Learn More

Outdoor Unstructured Play

Go and open the door, Maybe outside there’s a tree, or a wood, a garden or a magic city.The Door, Miroslav Golub

Unstructured Play is a set of activities that children dream up on their own without adult involvement. This type of play rarely has predetermined goals or objectives but instead allows children to create their own rules and establish their own limits.

Outdoor unstructured play in nature has been shown to be beneficial in many ways, far beyond fresh air and sunlight.

In a “Pop-up” Nature Playground, a tree cross-section becomes a stepping stone for a walking path, scattered tree branches are used as poles for a tree tepee, long brown vines become make-believe bird’s nests for story time, and stacks of raw wood blocks become an imaginary fairyland castle.

As demonstrated by the Pop-up playground created by BackYard Nature Center for The Alliance for Early Childhood and the Winnetka Park District, the benefits of outdoor unstructured play include:

  • Stimulating imagination and creativity
  • Fostering cooperative problem solving in an environment where children learn to set rules and negotiate without parents or coaches
  • Contributing to physical development by creating balance and physical challenges using found objects improves coordination and strength
  • Relieving stress
  • Increasing attention span

Nature Locations In New Trier Township

BackYard Nature Center partners with various local organizations to create nature play areas in New Trier Township. Contact Us to ask about opportunities in your neighborhood.


There are over 70 outdoor parks in NTT, have you explored them all?



Many schoolyards have native plantings and nature play spaces made from natural materials, these play spaces reduce waste and can easily be reconfigured. Can you recognize the difference?


Forest preserves

Expands hundreds of acres across NTT starting at Chicago Botanic Gardens and extending south to Gillson Park along the lakefront, looking for outdoor activities to plan with the family?



Whether it is a bird sanctuary, private play space, or a garden to view the changes from season to season, have you explored nature in your own backyard?