After a successful pilot program last year, Morris Arboretum now has a space opening May 1st in the Sculpture Garden dedicated to Nature Play. The concept of Nature Play is to give children space to discover the wonders of the natural world in an intuitive and unstructured way. 

In April 2017, Liza Hawley, associate director, visitor education and youth programs at the Arboretum, visited five gardens in the UK with the particular wish to see how they invited children to explore nature. “Nature Play: Nature Conservation,” a study by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh [RBGE] in 2015, built on research investigating opportunities for and barriers to nature play by young children and their caregivers by looking “in more depth at the content of nature play and the balance between impact and nature conservation in the context of a botanical garden.” RBGE developed guidelines to help comparable sites manage nature play areas. These include providing a specific, designated area for nature play that gives users space where such behaviors were previously ‘not allowed.’ Providing seating for adults provided for long, leisurely exploration by the children.

In their article “Nature Play,” the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association says, “This type of unstructured, make-it-up-as-you-go play [has] existed since the dawn of humanity, with changes in its details but not in its essence. It [has] long served human children well: firing their imaginations, building their physical endurance and coordination, testing their initiative and courage, nurturing their people skills, and fostering life-long friendships with other kids and with nature.” (“Nature Play,” conservationtools.org)

This new space is Morris Arboretum’s “yes” area. Yes to going off the path. Yes to touching. And best of all, YES to climbing. As one parent expressed, “Love it! It was a nice break for my three kiddos from the gardens where they could look but not touch.” Nature Play helps children learn self-reliance, explore their interests, make independent observations and decisions, and solve problems. Such experiences encourage a lifetime of environmental stewardship and connections with the natural world.

Featuring large cut trees and stumps for climbing, various nature objects for building and creating, and tools for exploring, this space will also serve as an outdoor classroom for many Growing Minds classes and schools visiting on field trips.