Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Naturally Playful

Natural play, exploration and classroom oriented spaces are popping up around the globe as means to better connect children to nature in early stages of life. Taking away the plastic slides and swing sets and replacing them with natural play equipment like tree logs and dirt, help bring nature directly into a staple activity for children! What better way to provide young children with the skills and love for nature within a safe and fun environment? Recently, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge opened up their very own Nature Explore Area where children can come to get their hands dirty and experience nature all in the name of playtime!

Preparing for a Playful Crowd
A couple weeks back, I attended a volunteer work party at the refuge to help with some clean-up of the Nature Explore Area. While weeding along the area’s dirt pathway, I got a chance to speak with some of the workers and volunteers at the refuge about the different aspects of the area. There was space for art, music, performance, building, climbing, crawling, and of course – getting dirty!

An Outdoor Space to be a Kid
As I took a tour of the area with Visitor Services Manager, Sheila McCartan, she explained the purpose of each of the areas. In the art area, visitors are encouraged to get creative with natural materials stocked directly from the refuge. The music and movement area offers instruments made of natural materials and a stage for visitors to perform. Sheila made note that this area was a favorite of parent visitors who could frequently be seen acting out performances with or without their children (you’re never too old to be a kid outside!). Other structures encouraged kids to dig in the dirt and climb on tree stumps and trunks, while a natural tree house allowed children to build and decorate a tree fort with some provided colorful cloths.

Not Your Standard Playground
Overall, this Nature Explore Area aims to offer visitors to the refuge an alternative to a typical playground. Making a connection between nature and play within young children is sure to help them better develop skills to explore nature as they grow, as well as build and foster the kind of love and excitement for nature needed for future conservation. But most of all – here kids can have just as much, if not much more, fun during playtime than on what is typically thought to be the standard “playground.”

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