I take play in nature very seriously. Research, experience, intuition and good sense tells us that creative play in natural settings is important for children. Cleveland Metroparks is a place where, whether it be on a trail or in a designated play area, children can balance on logs, hop over streams, stack rocks into towers and invite birds to play along. Winter doesn’t have to be a time for that to stop. Children who dress for the temperature and keep dry will enjoy the new experiences brought forth by winter.
But certainly winter’s chill can mean more time indoors. This doesn’t mean that the creative and imaginative play that we get from free play in nature has to go away. We can provide space and loose parts to spark and build adventures of imagination and discovery. This is just what we’ve tried to do in the children’s play area in North Chagrin Nature Center. You’re invited to visit the children’s area in North Chagrin Nature Center, the space in our other nature centers’ set up for creative plan or follow our lead to create your own space.
We have space for children to move their bodies. We know that we learn with our whole selves. Children especially need to crawl, climb, push, pull, stack, balance and negotiate their own space. Climbing in our log, peeking out of its ends, hiding from a predator with our plush animals and perching on top of our extra-large frog are big-movement activities.
Loose parts are great sources of discovery and imaginative play. What are loose parts? Things which we can use to build, create, and play, which can be used in many ways. Blocks are loose parts. With blocks a child can build a tower, but can also make a forest picnic table, or a plate of pancakes. The blocks can represent people or water or building materials. We also have beautifully sculpted wooden puzzles and wooden people that are blank enough to be anyone. We have small toy animals that represent the creatures that might be found in North Chagrin Reservation. The possibilities for stories to invent or scenes to assemble are endless.
We also have space for grown-up people. Full sized play partners can get comfortable sitting on the carpet and joining in on play, or sit nearby in a rocking chair at the fireplace. While we have child-sized furniture, we also have grown-up scale chairs to make parents, or grandparents, or caretakers comfortable and nearby.
I hope that you will spend time outside and take in some imaginative play this winter. I also hope you’ll take a moment to stop by our children’s play area, especially if you have a child with you. Let them linger for some time. We invite you all to imagine, play and discover in our space. After all, the nature center is about as wonder of a place to linger as any I know of. And, if you build your piece of natural wonder in our children’s area, please come and see if I’m here so that I might come and enjoy what you’ve created.