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The Woods as Playground

I had a revelation with my kids last week on a hike in the woods: Hiking is for adults.

My oldest daughter is 3.25 and we've taken her on countless "hikes" only to come home feeling less than hiked out. My husband and I like to walk, but she really doesn't.

As we adults dream up fabulous ideas for Reynolds Community Park, we are attracted to design and play elements that feel natural and woodsy. I like hills and rocks and fort-like things made of twigs.

So when we're in the woods, why "hike?"

The entire experience changed when I suggested the logs were balance beams, the tree roots opportunities to create fabulous jumps, the tree branches tunnels, and the boulder at the end the grand-prize-climb (after a stop at the mulberry bush)! Along the way, the kids noticed tiny toads, super-long worms, gooey slugs, furry moss, and colorful lichen, all by themselves! The oldest stopped to listen for the red-winged-blackbird and mimicked the conk-la-ree call. We all had a blast. And we actually covered a decent amount of trail.

Meanwhile, a nearby playground got a big dose of woods when a storm brought down a lake-side tree. Older kids moved branches and even a wood pallet from a pier to construct an awesome fort. I took the girls on a very hot day and the fort provided the perfect shade for them to get lost in the secret space.

I think our adult-desire for more natural play at our urban playgrounds is partly because we idealize children's play as being innocent and pure. Maybe the purity is a freedom from adult categorizations, like the difference between hiking, playing, woods and playground. We like to hike because it's adult play. The kids, they just want to play.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about this exact thing this past week when my out of town friends, their 3 yr old and I were "hiking" at Devil's Lake. It meant wandering down a path that had wonderful rocks to climb on, roots to walk along and jump off of, and benches to snack while taking in the gorgeous lake. adults didn't get much distance in, but it was a satisfying adventure for everyone.