Before you go out and purchase that expensive swing set, or even if you already have, you might want to consider incorporating a natural playscape into your yard. A natural playscape is like a playground made of materials found in nature. Think logs, stumps, earth mounds, rocks, plants and sand. Sound less exciting than your traditional wood, plastic and metal setup? Our very own University of Tennessee finds the opposite to be true. A recent study (and a groundbreaking one, I might add) showed that children in a natural playscape were more physically active and more imaginative in their play, which was also found to last about twice as long when compared to their play on a more typical playground. But wait, there’s more! After playing in a natural playscape, children are better able to concentrate and score higher on tests. Their balance and coordination improve. They play better together, fewer children are left out, and there is less bullying. They are calmer, more positive and have less stress. And, of course, they develop a reverence for nature. I’m not making this stuff up, y’all! There is bona fide research on this subject. So now you are sold, right? Right. And you no doubt want to know how to set up your child’s very own natural playscape. You will want to incorporate natural things to sit and stand on, like logs or stumps. Nooks and crannies and places to hide are a great addition. Add some water, some flowers, maybe a sandbox – even a dirtbox! You will want lots and lots of loose parts—like pinecones, rocks, sticks, wood boards, and shells—that can be moved around and used to construct different imaginary projects. Here are some photos of the early stages of the natural playground my husband and I are working on for our 16-month-old: You can also find natural playscapes at several local playgrounds including Shelby Park!