In today’s competitive visitor attraction business, the ability to provide playful experiences that enable visitors to create meaningful, long-lasting memories is often a key characteristic of the best and most successful visitor attractions.
With the pressures of work and modern day life meaning that opportunity for quality family time is often limited, families are eager to make the most of their limited family time by seeking opportunities of making memories with and for their children.
As a visitor attraction, coming up with new and innovative ways to capture the hearts and minds of the families, parents and children by offering them memorable, playful experiences can feel like a significant challenge. However, some astute visitor attraction businesses are increasingly recognising the considerable benefits of natural play experiences in inspiring enduring, positive memories in the minds of their visitors and are reaping the benefits to bottom line.
Part of the indoor natural playground at William’s Den, created by TouchWood Play
But what exactly is natural play and how can it help the creation of memories?
Joe Cooper, founder of TouchWood Play, a specialist design and build natural play company, explains that when children have the opportunity to have playful experiences within the natural environment in a way that enables them to connect with the natural world around them, it benefits not just their emotional, psychological and educational development, but also creates the perfect conditions for the creation of positive childhood memories that can last a lifetime.
As Joe explains, “When we think of our strongest most enduring memories of childhood play, it’s no coincidence that they often involve natural play – playing outdoors, interacting with nature, mud fights, building dens, climbing trees and the sense of freedom and adventure that playing outdoors within the natural environment gives us.” This is because natural play environments satisfy two powerful childhood drives, which published play expert, Martin Maudsley, describes as the ‘Play Instinct’ and the ‘Nature Instinct’”.
Joe Cooper and Martin Maudsley have been working together for over 10 years, exploring the positive impact of natural spaces on play and wellbeing. Martin explains that, alongside basic biological needs for food, shelter and affection, children have two other innate psychological drives; playfulness (The Play Instinct) and biophilia (The Nature Instinct):
The Play instinct – Play can be seen as an ‘instinct’, comparable to other biological drives that have evolved to maintain our survival. All children have an inborn desire to play - it’s in their nature. Through their drive to play children are propelled to explore and interact with the physical world. Natural environments and playgrounds are particularly attractive and satisfying to children as they meet their playful needs and desires and inspire new behaviours. Provided with suitable spaces and free opportunities children play instinctively with natural elements, without being taught how to do so.
The Nature Instinct (also known as biophilia) – can be interpreted as an evolutionary connection with nature. Alongside their innate drive to play, children have an instinctive desire to contact and connect with the natural world. This nature-attraction seems particularly strong in young children – as indicated by their enduring fascination with stories, toys and games based on wild animals and plants.
Martin goes on to explain that when children have the opportunity to freely express and satisfy their impulses towards their natural play and nature instincts, this can lead to what is known as ‘Spots in Time'; powerful, positive memories that enrich childhood and last a lifetime.
Natural slide & tree house, created by TouchWood Play
Increasingly, it seems that many prominent and successful visitor attractions agree with the idea that including natural play areas in their offering is key to creating enticing play experiences that encourage the making of enduring childhood memories. This, ultimately, positively affects the bottom line of visitor attraction businesses by increasing dwell time, encouraging repeat visits and increasing brand awareness and good-will through visitor recommendation.
TouchWood Play have worked with a number of high profile visitor attractions including multi award-winning William’s Den. As a brand new visitor attraction, William’s Den opened their doors to the public in 2016, having engaged Touchwood Play to create a highly unique, bespoke, indoor natural play area within a barn. Since opening, William’s Den have smashed their initial targets for visitor numbers, won a host of prestigious awards and regularly receive hugely positive online reviews from customers with reviews like “Loved the den building! Took me back to my childhood!!”, “A lesson to all other adventure parks,” and “Rarely do you find a place where kids are happy to spend the full day without getting bored once. The indoor play is beyond awesome.” TouchWood have also recently completely a flagship new natural playground for destination shopping outlet, Bicester Village in Oxford and will soon be starting work on a brand new indoor natural play area for Umberslade Farm Park in Warwickshire.
For these visitor attractions and many others, it seems that the ability of natural playgrounds and play areas to attract visitors and encourage the creation of memory making offers a business opportunity that other types of play cannot match.
To find out more about TouchWood Play, visit www.touchwoodplay.co.uk