Home > Article > Allow Children to Roam Outdoors Unstructured nature play makes children healthier and happier

Allow Children to Roam Outdoors Unstructured nature play makes children healthier and happier

Five Rivers MetroParks

Gabriela Worcester watches as her daughters play with sticks, toss rocks into the stream and climb over rocks at Hills & Dales MetroPark.

Worcester brings her daughters, Ellie, age 3, and Abbie, 1, to the park often. They enjoy playing on the swings and slide, but she’s particularly pleased to see them exploring the nature play area just up the trail from the traditional playground. It’s one of several such playscapes across Five Rivers MetroParks. “I really want them to engage their curiosity,” Worchester says. “I’m an outdoor person, so we try to be out in nature.”

Five Rivers MetroParks is part of a national movement to bring nature back into playgrounds says Joshua York, education supervisor for the park system. Nature play areas can be found at the following MetroParks:

  • Englewood, 4361 National Rd.
  • Hills & Dales, 2606 Hilton Dr.
  • Possum Creek Farm, 4790 Frytown Rd.
  • Sugarcreek, 4178 Conference Rd.
  • Adventure Central at Wesleyan, 2222 N. James H. McGee Blvd.
  • Children’s Discovery Garden at Wegerzyn Gardens, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave.

“Each is considerably different,” York says. Englewood, for example, has an earthen slide, tunnel and creek. At Sugarcreek, the nature play area is right off the main trail leading into the park, with a variety of logs and sticks to play and build forts with. “Kids always find nature on their own,” says York. “What we struggle with as a culture is letting adults know it’s okay for kids to play with and engage in nature.”

Parents can also help children enjoy the nature play areas by building a love of the outdoors before and after they visit the park. Carry magnifying glasses (the larger the better so no squinting is necessary) for children to examine their finds. Bring along a white sheet to spread under a tree; shake the tree or plant and watch the bugs fall down onto the sheet, walk around and fly back up. A tackle box is perfect for building a nature collection, and small glass baby food jars allow children to examine bugs or animals they might not want to hold.

Back at home, York suggests allowing children to have some control of the back yard. Give them the freedom to plant and dig, to create a brush pike that might attract rabbits or plant pollinators to draw butterflies. By encouraging your children’s inherent interest in the outdoors, you are helping them to create a lifelong bond with nature.

For more information on nature play areas at Five Rivers MetroParks, visit www.metroparks.org.

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