Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cincinnati Nature Center: Nature Playscape Grand Opening

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!
Inside the Playscape, mulch and gravel paths wind throughout the 1.6 acres of fields planted with native plants and lead to various play areas.  The main attraction is the stream which includes a small waterfall to climb and plenty of stones for building dams.

The Stream

Miles Prepares to Descend the Waterfall

Marshall and Miles Navigate the Stream
Surrounding the stream are play areas.  We managed to visit most of them.  Following are some photos of the areas we encountered in no special order.

Dirt Hill--Our Favorite!

Ring of Upright Logs

It's a Fort, It's a Balance Beam

Hidden "Cave"

We Could Stay Here All Day

All Natural Jungle Gym

Look at Me Mom!

Sand Pit--a Classic
I also observed a gravel pit, more dirt piles, and some older kids building a fort in the woods with fallen branches.  One little fella spent his whole time building a very functional dam in the stream.

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. 


  1. Hi Heather -- Don't know if you remember me, but I was in your Tuesday AM class at WW. I also used to work at WW. Anyway, a friend of mine who doesn't know you reads your blog and pointed out to me that my daughter is in one of your pictures. The Dirt Hill shot -- that's my daughter Grace with the shades on. How's that for bizarre?

    Take care,

  2. Hi Katie, I do remember you! What are the chances of me taking that particular photo, posting it, and your friend seeing it, and then that we were in class together. Small world! Are you still at WW? I'm busy with the boys, but hope to get back to a class one day. I sure hope you are doing well! Thanks for reaching out. I hope Grace is okay with her candid appearance. She's a cute gal.

  3. Heather,

    Yes, bizarre all around.

    I don't work at WW anymore, but I am taking a poetry class from Mary Pierce Brosmer there. And yes, Grace is fine with her cuteness being on her blog. :)

    I hope all is well with you and I continue to love your blog!!