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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Nature and digitalization challenging the traditional playground

Pysander, Eva-Lotta Sallnas; Martensson, Fredrika; Waern, Annika; Litsmark, Anna; Hedblom, Marcus; Raustorp, Anders; Ghilagaber, Gebrenegus; Zhu, Hui


Playing outdoors in nature with peers has been attributed most importance for children's healthy development but is increasingly marginalized because of the attractiveness of screen-based play. Careful merging of digital technology into outdoor play environments rich on nature elements could potentially help bridge digital play with more traditional play activities outdoors. A systematic comparison was made of outdoor play in more or less green settings, with and without digital installations or traditional play equipment. The separate and combined role of digital artefacts, play equipment and natural elements, were investigated, with particular focus on the effects of merging digital materials into nature. A group of children aged 6-8 were involved in a field study in a three-week period playing in a traditional playground, a forest and in a forest with digitally enhanced play artefacts. Children ' s play behavior was evaluated using a behavioral tracking method, a questionnaire and a contextual interview with the children, and a physical activity measure, in combination with inventories including maps to document the design, and the ecological and physical status of the settings. The study documents differences in children's play behavior across the three settings. It differs most between the digital forest setting and the forest setting regarding the play categories imaginative play, physical play and rule play and the digital forest setting stands out when it comes to expressive play. It is discussed how particular attributes in the physical environment influence the overall play flow and the interactive effects of natural material and digital material. Ecologically, the forest and the forest with digitally enhanced artefacts were more diverse than the traditional playground, but the natural material present was important for play in all settings.


Children 's play; Health promotion; Outdoor education; Urban planning; Playground; Digital

Published in

Urban Forestry and Urban Greening
2024, Volume: 93, article number: 128148