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Dennis and Rebecca Beach Owners of Play Mart, Inc. Playground EquipmentDennis and Rebecca Beach, owners of playground equipment company Nature of Early Play, have been warm-hearted environmentalists from the start. The couple raised and homeschooled their five kids in the heart of nature on 23 acres of land in Kentucky. The entire family used to work together at their mom-and-pop shop in the family barn. Dennis drew his designs by hand and the kids helped cut and paste the drawings. The children grew up outdoors, running down to the creek, gardening, and raising animals.

“We got to experience the real ‘getting back to nature’ concept that’s at the heart of our products today,” says Tabitha Beach Sani, director of marketing at Nature of Early Play. “When my parents developed the early childhood product line for Nature of Early Play, it really was just bringing it full circle.” She says her parents were truly hippies who wanted to save the world, always wanting to foster “messy little scientists.”

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“We want to build infrastructure that helps caregivers easily take care of young children while letting them experience nature,” Dennis says. When it comes down to it, Nature of Early Play embodies the same green passion as its owners, giving young children who aren’t surrounded by nature the chance to learn about the natural world through innovative playtime products.

Branching Out

Every family member has made a positive impact on the business: one daughter helped them develop their software system, one son helped build their sales representative network, and another daughter helped them get certified by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association. “However, after being home-schooled and working in the family business for years, a lot of the kids wanted to spread their wings,” Rebecca says.

While she now lives several states away, Dennis and Rebecca’s daughter Tabitha still designs graphics and creates the company’s catalogs; she also helped design their website. “Being home-schooled and then working with the company helped each one of us kids develop our own career path and skill set,” Tabitha says.

[Photo: Courtesy of Nature of Early Play]

Nature of Early Play branched out from Dennis and Rebecca’s original company, Play Mart, which designs products primarily for children from ages 5 to 12. In 2006, the Beaches went to an advanced summer design course at Harvard University. It was there that the couple realized there were very few U.S. manufacturers with age-appropriate equipment for infants and preschoolers. They began developing a product line to fill the great need for early childhood play equipment in the marketplace. These early childhood products eventually became the stand-alone company Nature of Early Play, Inc.

The Best Materials

When Rebecca and Dennis first began making playgrounds, they used wood. But wood has many problems—it cracks, splits, and rots. That’s why they switched to high-quality recycled lumber. “We had a problem with our vendor taking forever to get the lumber to us, so we said, ‘Let’s do it ourselves,’” Rebecca says. The couple bought a 120-foot long machine that extrudes plastic lumber out of milk jugs. They have since saved millions of pounds of plastic from going into landfills.

“The materials we use are recycled, and they’re definitely a part of Mom and Dad’s passion to conserve both energy and materials,” Tabitha says. “Every item that’s designed is put through Dad’s conservation brain.”

In the early days, Dennis created a materials efficient modular deck, post, and component design system. This simple system allowed even the kids to help create new playsets by copying and pasting paper components. Later he used this same modular concept to design the molds for the recycled plastic lumber profiles, which allow for ease in designing and installing play equipment. All of the components fit together down to one-sixteenth of an inch. This modular design makes it easy to rearrange all of their products, allowing for great flexibility and efficiency, too.


[Photo: Courtesy of Nature of Early Play]

nature of early play playground

The Design Process

Much of their design inspiration comes from observing how kids play and from raising their own family in the heart of nature. Dennis and Rebecca recently visited their new grandchild in California and took him to an infant park. “Most places don’t really have any early childhood public parks, so it was fun to watch this whole herd of really little ones play with sand and lots of little plastic toys,” Dennis says. “That’s where creative ideas come from—when you see the things the kids don’t play with and, vice versa, the things they’re really attracted to.”

One interesting thing they noticed was that barely any of the children played on the wooden playset. Most of the children were using individual push toys, tables with sand, or digging in the dirt. “It used to be that people just wanted one really big playset, but kids don’t want to just hang out on a big playset,” Rebecca says. That’s why Nature of Early Play focuses on providing different, more age-appropriate play experiences.

Creative & Versatile Equipment

One Scandinavian saying inspired Dennis and Rebecca’s outdoor equipment designs: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” Whether it’s warm or cold outside, Nature of Early Play aims to bring real natural materials—like mud and snow—back to playtime.

“Our philosophy is that we’re not going to build concrete trees or something that looks like it’s a natural product,” Rebecca says. The Nesting Table is a perfect example. It’s a simple table that varies by height with age. Waterproof and on wheels, it’s easy to move inside and outside as needed. “It’s what we like to call ‘the infrastructure’ because it’s up to the caretaker to bring in natural materials,” Rebecca says. One day the kids could make mud pies, and then during the winter they could build snow structures.

The tables also work for storing small toys like Legos. The reversible lid can be used as a scoop to dump the blocks into the bin, and it closes for easy cleanup. “Our products make life easier for caregivers to give much more hands-on, active play without wasting all the time cleaning up everything,” Dennis says. Some products even include cleanup stations, so when the kids are done playing in the mud, they can wash their hands.

Nature of Early Play also encourages gardening with a little farmers’ market, raised garden beds, and tables where kids can sort vegetables. On top of that, they offer arts and crafts areas, musical instruments, and tricycle paths. Eric Evans, owner of Total Recreation Solutions in Virginia, has installed Nature of Early Play’s products all over the U.S., bringing gardening and water play into countless playgrounds. “We do a lot of tricycle paths with trike garages and tunnels at preschools and daycares,” he says. “This equipment gets the kids out of the classrooms and away from iPads and tablets and video games and into the dirt, sand, and water. I really believe in this product and the initiative behind it—the quality and the green aspect.”

Sustainable Manufacturing

Nature of Early Play’s manufacturing process is green, too. They recycle all scraps by grinding them up and putting the plastic back into the plastic extrusion system. A county recycling company comes in weekly to collect all of their single-stream recyclables. “We use many tractor trailer loads a year of post-consumer milk jugs from city recycling companies and dairies,” Dennis says.

The manufacturing plant itself has 64 skylights that produce abundant natural daylight, meaning overhead lights are less needed. “All the high bay lighting we had before was really energy inefficient, so we’ve done lots of LED lighting down low over work areas,” Dennis says.


nature of early play playground 2

The plastic extrusion system used to be cooled by a chiller, which used a lot of electricity for fans and compressors. But now Dennis and his team cool the plastic extrusion machines with a 10,000-gallon water tank hooked to several pumps with recirculating groundwater. This greatly reduces their carbon footprint.

Wasting gas and mileage isn’t an issue either. The dairies they source the plastic from are close to the plant, which is in a central location—Somerset, Kentucky. A local trucking company hauls their products to nearby projects, usually within a day’s drive.

The Future

As Nature of Early Play continues to grow internationally, they also look to expand by finding new distributors in Europe, Asia, and South America. Currently Nature of Early Play is  expanding its line of infant playground equipment, as not many manufacturers are designing products that meet ASTM F2373 standards for the six months to 23 months age group. They recently manufactured tiny slides for infants that fit within their modular systems. They designed another unique product called the Infant Mod Space—an outdoor pad with protective low walls where an infant can safely crawl, learn to stand, or simply lie outside. It allows babies to play outdoors and have natural sensory experiences. They also developed a belly swing. It’s just a few inches above a cushioned pad with a pivot point of about two-and-a-half feet. Infants can lay in the belly swing and gently push their legs back and forth just a few inches for a safe, pleasant time. “We had a swing inside our house, and one of our daughters used to just lay there on her belly and swing back and forth,” Dennis says. “When we saw it in this standard, we thought, ‘How cool. We have to design that.’” They took the belly swing to a trade show and the woman who wrote the ASTM standard came up to them crying, Dennis says. She said they were the first ones who had ever built such a thing—and she couldn’t be happier.

Designing for the Military

An agency contacted Nature of Early Play through a prime contractor for the U.S. Army and asked them to help with their initiative to revamp the military’s child development centers. Dennis and Rebecca Beach traveled to the sites in their new electric car, saving about 70% of their total carbon emissions. “There was a visionary from the army, and she had a heart that was very similar to Rebecca’s for giving children imaginative and creative places to play,” Dennis says. When they rebuilt a network of 14 play areas at a base in South Carolina, they designed every playground for each age group with interactive, age-appropriate play equipment. “Some of the children have both parents deployed in the army, so the kids would actually live at the daycare centers off and on around the clock,” Dennis says. That’s why this project was so important—not only were the child development centers a place to play; they also acted as second homes.

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"I'm not sure whether the kids would have caused damage to the playset at some point, but the playground survived the hurricane. Your RSP™ is amazing."

Tim H. Gateway Services Community Development District

Ft Myers, FL

“I would just like to let you know Play Mart did a wonderful job on the packing/shipping and installation instructions. We have installed almost every manufacturer in the market and your company is the most installation friendly we have done in years.”

Playground Installation Crew


“The contractor who assembled the set told me it was his first experience with recycled material in play sets and he was very impressed. He also told me it was very well packaged and user friendly for assembly.

It looks first class and blends in well with the wooded area surrounding our church. We like the fact we can accommodate so many kids with a set this size.”

Bruce P.

Topeka, KS

“This is cooler than big kids stuff!”

5 Year Old Child

Topeka, KS

“Congratulations on your extensive and impressive exhibit of your playground products. I was most impressed. If I were a child, I would spend a lot of time in the music section of your marvelous array of enticing things to do. But on the other hand, I could easily be enticed to the many other play opportunities for play and learning.

It is blatantly obvious that you have put a lot of careful thought into developing your engaging products for children. Congratulations and thank you for the tour of your exhibit at the trade show.”

Matthew Evans, FASLA Senior Landscape Architect & Horticulturist

US Capitol, Washington, DC

“It gives me great pleasure to be able to write a letter on behalf of Play Mart, Inc. On two different occasions in recent years, Play Mart constructed playground equipment on our school property. Play Mart representatives went out of their way to meet with the school playground committee so that we fully understand our options and the cost. We have been delighted with the equipment that Play Mart representatives recommended for our students. It is age appropriate and safe. We have had to make two minor repairs, which were quickly taken care of by the company.
In the process building the playground, we were very interested in using recycled materials. Availability of this via Play Mart was a big reason why we choose this company. Play Mart worked with us in obtaining exactly what we wanted. We were very pleased with the construction timeline and the value for the price. When we wanted to add more equipment, Play Mart was most helpful and made the changes cost effective for us. Our students spend many happy hours enjoying the playground.

We have been very happy with the entire project. It is with great satisfaction I write this letter on behalf of the company and their employees.”

Sister Laverne K., School Principal

Newark, DE

“We continue to be so pleased with our playscape! As soon as we open the door in preparation for outside play, the children head straight for the playscape. The teachers so enjoy watching the students play some of their favorite games which include: Pirate Ship (they all crowd on top of the playscape sailing off for adventure of the high seas), Shark! (similar to pirate ship but they all stand on top screaming “shark”), and Ice cream shop (sellers stand under the playscape and deliver ice cream cones to customers on the other side of the ‘counter’).
We thank you again for working so closely with us as we designed this safe and sturdy play area to fit the needs of our Nursery School. It has been one year and it still looks great, blending beautifully into our historic town green. Both our school and our community look forward to many, many more years of fun!”

Laurie H., Daycare Director

Washington, CT

“Our entire church is excited with the equipment and especially glad we saved 32,226 milk jugs from a landfill. We love the look of wood without the problems of termites and splintering.”

Joyce W.

Jacksonville, AR

“I wanted to drop you a quick note to commend you on your subcontractor’s performance…The combination of your quality equipment and the installation by Hammer Down has provided the staff, children and Marine Corp with an excellent play facility. The installation and application of the equipment has turned out superbly.  Hammer Down, Paul and his entire crew were pleasant to work with, knowledgeable of the equipment and codes and had an uncommon willingness to work well with us and other contractors. I commend them for an excellent install and terrific attitude.

As for the poured in place rubber; again a superb product paired with a great subcontractor. Clean Play, Allen and his crew provided a level of work that would be hard to surpass. The installation went smoothly and quickly. I appreciate their attention to detail and cleanliness. Though we may have stayed late, I never have an issue doing that for a contractor that works as hard and diligently as they did each and every day. There performance was outstanding and one I would look forward to seeing again.

I appreciate all of your help and you providing us with such high quality subcontractors. Thank you.”

Mike R., Superintendent

Sauer, Inc.