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I had the joy of watching kids age 5-14 playing and creating at Mass Audubon's Boston Nature Center this summer. This was the first summer our Nature Nook was open, and children found so many ways to engage, build, and challenge themselves. We designed the space to foster the kind of play David Sobel talks about in his children and nature design principles, such as adventure, special places, and hunting and gathering. Here are some highlights:

  • Children created a barter economy based on found objects like black walnuts, staghorn sumac berries, and leaves.
  • Older children made a challenge course for younger children that included a mini-bridge made of large timbers.
  • In "preparation" for Hurricane Irene, kids built gnome homes (small structures of sticks and leaves) that they hoped would withstand the strong winds and rain.

Our goal for this space was to create a bridge between two worlds: the manicured lawns and sparsely-planted backyards that many of our visitors have experienced; and the wilder nature that they can experience on our trails. Visitors who are reluctant to walk our trails are more familiar with taking their kids to a park to play, so the Nature Nook fosters comfort in the outdoors while building the skills that we want kids to have: teamwork, creative problem-solving, and caring for plants and animals.


What spaces have you seen that encourage this kind of connection? I'm fascinated by the potential for public spaces to re-engineer nature play into children's lives. One resource I've found is the Playscapes Blog: http://playgrounddesigns.blogspot.com/ On the right side of the page, click on "natural playgrounds" to see amazing examples of these places.


I'm attaching some of my favorite photos from the summer. They show kids working together to build a dam, a girl collecting leaves for trading, and a boy creating a nature trail for an ant. Feel free to visit our site anytime if you're in the area!


Erica Quigley

Teacher Naturalist

Mass Audubon's Boston Nature Center

500 Walk Hill St.

Mattapan, MA 02126



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We have a nature playground at the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve here in Auburn, AL and it's been a wonderful draw to get people out in the woods.  The kids really do enjoy it.  We have one section with a big sign about what can be found in a rotten log and have placed rotten logs underneath it for kids to poke around in.  You wouldn't believe how often we have to go hunting for more rotten logs because the children love tearing them apart.  


Daisy Griffin

Teacher Naturalist

Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve


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