Six Great Ways Parks Connect Kids to Nature
|It was a delightful place, full of the imagination of children at play.|
Far from being an unauthorized use of the park, the ‘Living Room in the Woods’ was exactly the kind of nature discovery play the park staff had hoped would take place in this recently designated Nature Play Area.
Five Rivers MetroParks has designated a number of Nature Play Areas in their parks, and this one is just about ideal–a wooded finger of parkland that extends into a residential neighborhood which surrounds the parkland on three sides. It is so suitable for children’s play that the mother of one of the kids who built the living room recently contacted the park staff and expressed her appreciation that there was such a place in the park that her kids could safely play, and in a way that she felt was so important for their development.
The Living Room in the Woods highlights an important truth—the immense value of parks to kids. Simply said, parks are one of the primary places that kids—and parents—can connect to nature and the outdoors. We take them for granted, but they may just be essential if a generation of kids who have lost their connection to nature are to re-connect.
Parks are places for kids to discover nature and exercise their imagination. with nature, and to each other. Perhaps more than ever, families need places to connect with each other. Parks are all-purpose places for kids to connect with nature and with families to connect with each other. They are one of the few places that families can go where there are no barriers to communication—no amplified loudspeakers, no big screen TVs, nothing other than the sounds and sights of nature. Parks enable connections between people as well as to nature.
Parks are close-to-home nature places One of the great blessings of our national birthright is the heritage of our parks and public lands. Acquiring and developing parks is a uniquely American tradition at all levels of government, one that is all the more cherished as open spaces are rapidly disappearing from communities. And the power of local parks to connect kids with nature is not to be underestimated. A long-standing observation about parks, recently articulated by Joe Elton, Virginia state park director, is that “you visit your local parks daily, your state parks a few times a year, and your national parks perhaps but once in a lifetime.” Nature is available in almost every park, and there are parks close to where you live.
Parks provide a sense of adventure for kids. Parks have the unique ability to provide kids with a sense of adventure. Every hike in the woods brings new things to see, and around every turn there is something new to discover. Kids gain a sense of accomplishment from challenges met outdoors, which leads to greater self-confidence and self-worth. Parks are a great place for kids to take risks, within acceptable limits, and to discover that the fears they have about the unknown are conquerable. The snake they encountered in the woods didn’t fall out of a tree and try to bite them. They didn’t get covered with ticks after taking a hike in the woods. Every successful adventure in the park contributes to their maturity and to kids developing a sense of stewardship for wildlife, natural resources, and open spaces.
Parks are a place to remember. Some of our earliest and most special memories were formed in parks—lifetime experiences that we remember with great satisfaction. Parks were special places where we forged friendships, had adventures, and learned new things about life and ourselves. Parks still provide these kinds of experiences to kids, and they produce powerful positive memories, affecting kids in ways we cannot always easily perceive. These park experiences influence their ethics, their career choices, and even how they will be as parents.
****Author's permission given for reprint.