Play in Pittsburgh’s Parks: Beyond the playground

This article is part of our Member Blog Series, which showcases Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative Members' efforts and commitment to ensure that play is a critical element in the lives of people of all ages. Each month, a different member organization will share their take on how play is a part of the work they do. The Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hopes that these stories of play from our diverse set of member organizations will encourage and inspire leaders in communities, businesses, schools and families to prioritize play every day.

Did you know in the city of Pittsburgh, you’re rarely far from a park or greenspace? Probably the first images to spring to mind are of our larger regional parks, with playgrounds such as Frick Park’s blue slide park or the Schenley Oval recreation complex. Pittsburgh’s playable green spaces range from those iconic large-acreage parks to pockets of green sprinkled throughout the city. Play opportunities abound, especially when we step beyond the playgrounds and engage with urban nature.

Nature play fosters creativity

Playing outdoors is fun. But did you know that natural play areas support more dramatic and constructive play than traditional playgrounds? Multitude of studies support the benefits of outdoor play on children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Loose-parts Play in Nature

Playing outside beyond the playground often involves “loose parts” play – creative play with sticks, stones, acorns, leaves, whatever materials come to hand. Loose parts is a term used to describe any kind of play material that can be moved, carried, combined, taken apart, or put together, with no specific directions.

Loose parts can be used for construction, dramatic play, art projects, and more. Their open-endedness encourages problem-solving and creativity, and allows each child to engage with them at their own level. Just remember to leave natural materials in the area where you found them – these loose parts are important to wildlife, too!

Individual items found in nature can also provide rich fodder for playful investigation. With a few simple tools, such as a magnifying glass or “binoculars” made of toilet-paper tubes, children can become explorers in their own backyard or neighborhood park. Nature exploration engages the senses – children can touch the texture of tree bark, observe the colors of fall leaves, and listen for bird calls or the sound of a babbling brook.

Need a little more support?

Pittsburgh Parks Rx program offers seasonal activities you can do outdoors and park-specific activity sheets for several Pittsburgh parks.

Need more convincing?

The National Environmental Education Foundation has put together a graphic highlighting all the benefits of being active in nature

More Parks Rx guides are available at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's website!

More Parks Rx guides are available at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's website!