The List: 10 cool nature play spaces
Experts agree that children need access to nature the same way that they need good nutrition and adequate sleep. According to the National Wildlife Federation, when kids play in nature, “they do so with more vigor, engagement, imagination, and cooperation than in wholly artificial environments.”
Enter the Nature Play Space. These are parks and play areas that have been designed to include natural elements, ranging from trees, stumps, logs, boulders, water, plants, sand, and so on. Instead of the standard metal and plastic structures that make up the bulk of today's playgrounds, these areas incorporate surrounding landscapes and vegetation. Here’s some great local places to check out nature’s playground.
BOSTON: Franklin Park Zoo
Between the Hyena and Baird’s Tapir exhibits, you’ll find this area for log play and fort building. Designed to connect children to the natural world, the play space has a rain barrel for little ones to enjoy water play.
CANTON: Museum of American Bird Art
Children can express their creativity and connect with nature at the same time at this play area near the large rock outcrop along the path to the museum. Use rocks as a medium for masterful chalk works of art and build mini cities from twigs, tree bark, and stones.
LINCOLN: Drumlin Farm
Discover a spiral stepping activity, a circle was made from downed trees on-site, that's perfect for imaginative play. Kids will also enjoy the Forest Discovery Trail to find raccoon and coyote tracks embedded in the ground, an over-sized bird nest (eggs included), woodchuck tunnels, a rhododendron maze, and a stump jump. Check out the treasure boxes along the trail to see what other visitors have found—and to leave a natural treasure of your own!
MATTAPAN: Boston Nature Center
The 14,000-square-foot Nature Nook offers gardening, building, climbing, and a shaded gathering area with benches for relaxing. Highlights include a giant xylophone, a jungle-like tall grass maze (complete with secret passageways), and a stone stream-bed where children can experiment with running water, sand, and sticks.
NATICK: Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary
This play space features three play circles: one with sand, one with small rocks, and one with logs. Build, stack and create patterns and mini structures with rocks. Look for butterflies, dragonflies and bees, and listen for sounds of birds.
PRINCETON: Wachusett Meadow
Explore, build, create, and climb where boulders and logs and sticks and stones have become jungle gyms, teepees, and balance beams. A cool shady spot to play in summer, shallow pools to investigate on rainy days, and wildlife tracks and more to discover in winter. Benches await parents and weary kids ready for a snack.
SOMERVILLE: Hoyt-Sullivan Park
Featuring several multi-level play elements, including an accessible tower and a complex log jam, this playground maximizes topographical changes to challenge and inspire children. A playground tower encourages children to view the site from above and track the trains as they pass by.
STONEHAM: Stone Zoo
Curious kids can climb into an oversized bird’s nest at this play area, just across from the zoo’s Snow Leopard exhibit. Built following guidelines from the National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative, it also features discovery tables, log play and fort building.
TOPSFIELD: Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Children can build a log cabin, explore a woodland trail, scale a mini observation tower or challenge themselves on a stump jump and fallen log balance beam. Materials used in the construction of this area were recycled from the sanctuary property.
WORCESTER: Broad Meadow Brook
It’s all about building at Broad Meadow Brook, where kids can create mini cities with found bricks or design gnome homes with moss, leaves, acorns, and anything else found on the ground. There's also a wooden two-seater swing.