Parks Strategy 5: Natural Play Areas

 PARKS, OUTDOOR RECREATION AND EXPERIENCES – Ohio has a rich history of providing outdoor experiences, recreational opportunities and nature education. State and local parks, nature centers and recreation centers provide close-to-home opportunities for children to experience nature. Traditional nature camps allow children to be immersed in the natural world for extended periods of time. Zoos and museums share with visitors a more intimate knowledge of nature and inspire further investigation. And, each year, youth organizations like Camp Fire, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, along with non-profit organizations like the YMCA, give hundreds of thousands of Ohio’s children the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature. Whether a few minutes in a half-acre of wildflowers or a week long camping experience in thousands of 13acres of unbroken forest, outdoor experiences are vital to children’s development. The following actions can enhance the ability of these organizations to bring children quality nature experiences:

Strategy #5: Encourage construction of natural play areas at parks, recreation centers and nature centers, as well as “nearby nature” locations like schools and child care centers. 

The National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Learning Initiative are developing national guidelines for natural play areas at child care and early childhood learning centers. These guidelines will provide useful information about how public spaces can be designed for use by many children so that children in the most urban of environments can experience the sense of creativity and discovery inherent in unstructured free-play.

  • At Parks And Recreation Centers:
    Parks and recreation agencies in Ohio are embracing the concept of natural play areas. Park managers are designating remote sites as natural play areas where children climb trees, crawl through hollow logs, romp in the dirt and explore wet areas instead of using the manufactured equipment featured in traditional playgrounds. Says John O’Meara, Executive Director of Metro Parks, “Natural Play Areas in the Metro Parks are designed to encourage children to discover nature while encouraging creativity. The freedom to explore the fields and streams will increase the likelihood of “WOW” moments that inspire the next generation of stewards of Ohio’s precious natural resources.
  • Country’s Largest Natural Playscape Demonstration Site:
    Across Ohio, schools and childcare centers are looking at how they might naturalize their school grounds. Creating public spaces for children to experience free play requires some thought. It is one thing for a child to dig in the family backyard, but quite another to have twenty children sharing a public space! In Cincinnati, the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Nature Center have partnered to create what will be the country’s largest natural playscape. It will serve as a demonstration model for those wishing to create such spaces.
  • Wild School Sites – Assistance And Funding Available:
    Statewide, WILD School Sites are considered an extension of Project WILD and can involve any school property used by students, teachers, and the school community as a place to learn about and benefit from wildlife and the environment. The sites function within the premise that every school, regardless of size and location, can provide outdoor educational opportunities that can and should be part of any integrated education program. The Ohio Division of Wildlife provides four basic forms of assistance to schools and organizations that are interested in having an outdoor classroom, including planning of sites, grant assistance, workshops and certification.