There are so many activities and destinations geared toward children in the Cincinnati region that it can be hard to choose what to do or where to go on any given day. But when I heard about the new Nature Playscape opening at the Cincinnati Nature Center, I knew I had to be there with the boys to check it out. In his opening remarks, Bill Hopple, CNC's Executive Director spoke about the fact that there are many natural areas to explore with children, but oftentimes there are rules to follow: Stay on the trail, Don't pick the flowers, Don't climb the trees, Stay out of the stream.
At the Nature Playscape, it's "Opposite Day," as my 4 year old would say. Children are encouraged to climb on the trees, build a fort, pick the flowers, play barefoot in the stream, and more. The Playscape was designed for kids to have a hands-on experience within a nature preserve without anyone telling them what not to do. After making a bee-line to the cookie and lemonade table set up for the grand opening, my sons got busy jumping, climbing, digging, and wading.
|Cookies and Lemonade Always Come First!|
|Miles Prepares to Descend the Waterfall|
|Marshall and Miles Navigate the Stream|
|Dirt Hill--Our Favorite!|
|Ring of Upright Logs|
|It's a Fort, It's a Balance Beam|
|We Could Stay Here All Day|
|All Natural Jungle Gym|
|Look at Me Mom!|
|Sand Pit--a Classic|
After our exploration which lasted a good two hours, we ventured back outside of the fenced-in Playscape and followed a short path to check out the nearby picturesque "Matt's Pond" and Abner Hollow Cabin.
By this time, hunger and exhaustion began to set in and when the boys started pushing and shoving one another down by the pond, I knew it was time to go. On our way back to the parking lot, we passed through a picnic grove and I made a note to pack a lunch on our next visit.
All in all, the Nature Playscape is a neat destination for the kids. Because it is fenced in, parents can let the youngsters roam at will while relaxing on a nearby bench if they wish.
The idea of natural playscapes is a trend that is gaining momentum. There is a lot of discussion about bringing children closer to nature and the need to combat parents' fears about letting kids roam free in the woods. Children certainly have less opportunity to roam wild places close to home now than when I was young. My childhood neighborhood of woods and farmland has given way to suburbs with paved roads and manicured lawns. Nature preserves are essential to protect our lands from over-development, but they become so protected that kids are not always free to get down and dirty with their surroundings. Natural playscapes, built into places such as the Cincinnati Nature Center provide a balance between the need to preserve nature and allow children to explore without rules and boundaries.
I am still a big advocate for taking your kids on all kinds of trails--preserved and wild. It's not the playscape that creates the experience, it's parents and caregivers providing the opportunity to experience nature. If parents are fearful of "the backwoods" and all the dangers therein, perhaps natural playscapes can provide a worry-free place to get their children (and themselves) back in touch with nature The Nature Playscape at CNC is a great introduction to the wonders of the natural world; but if you go, why not begin with a hike on one of the many trails within the park? There are some things that can not be re-created by human hands in a playscape, such as the smells of old rocks in a slow-flowing stream, moss on a rotting tree, or lumps of wet autumn leaves lining the forest floor; or a glimpse of a deer close by and the deep silence that covers the ears in the thick of the woods. There is a difference to playing in a controlled natural environment and communing with nature in the wild. The good thing about CNC is that you can have both experiences, all in one place.