Are children today getting enough contact with the natural world? Do they still dig in the dirt, build forts, and observe the animals frolic in the trees? Do you remember the hours of fun you had in the woods with just a stick and your imagination? With all of our technology and entertainment it is easy for children to miss out on the natural outdoor free play that studies show is critical for developing creativity.
Parents sometimes let their kids outside. But is it enough to just be outside? Isn’t it sometimes…well…a little…plastic? It’s better than nothing, but this playground stands in sharp contrast to what I am about to share with you.
Early this fall, at the University of Minnesota Arboretum, we discovered “under the oak,” a natural place for children. If you get a chance, visit it. It’s wonderful. We need more places like this.
When you approach the area you’ll see this sign reminding us about how important it is for children to have free time to develop in nature:
The massive oak tree beyond the sign looks like this.
Here is a close up of the “Toad Abode”
Under the tree, kids can build and play in natural tunnels…
And forts… Watch Out! Ya might get poked with a stick! Don’t tell the safety nazis.
Someone built this cool fort… Check out the canvas roof…
I don’t think that stick was meant to be a weapon… but… well… boys will be boys.
This is the view from the inside.
You can build your own canvas tent…
Or set up shop and pretend you’re a little entrepreneur…
Or set the table. But my son wanted to make little paths out of the plates.
Until he found something more interesting.
We had hours of fun under that old oak tree…
In the background of this photo you can see some cornstalks. That’s a garden with sunflowers and vegetables and other plants, where the kids are encouraged to touch everything.
Next to the garden is a green house with a variety of things we can’t grow in Minnesota like cacti and citrus fruit. Again, the kids are encouraged to touch everything, even the cacti – ouch!
I wish we had a playground like this in every neighborhood. Maybe… someday. Until then, I’m grateful we have this one.
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