The nature play movement has gained global attention, as early childhood spaces have been transforming from manufactured playgrounds to incorporating nature-based play spaces with a focus on natural elements and features. Despite the growing evidence base indicating that nature play is beneficial for children’s health and development, there remains inconsistencies between early childhood organisations in describing the features and elements of a nature play space that make it successful for child-related health outcomes. As such, this study investigated the role of nature and manufactured play space features on observed play behaviours in seventeen children attending four socio-economically diverse South Australian early childhood centres. A quantitative descriptive approach was utilised, with observations measured using the Behaviour Mapping Schedule. A Wilcoxon singed rank nonparametric test showed that imaginative (Z = − 2.803 p = 0.005) and cooperative play (Z = − 2.654, p = 0.008) were more frequently observed in natural compared to manufactured play spaces. Physical and motor skill play, however, was more frequently observed in manufactured zones compared to nature (Z = 1.966 p = 0.049). These findings suggest that both manufactured and natural play zones afford important play behaviours, which may indicate a balanced approach to play spaces design to include a combination of both manufactured and nature play features and elements.