Play is a serious business, it shapes how children learns especially in the early years. This is how they develop their view of the world, navigate risk, and last I heard, even climbing trees develop their creative thinking skills. But most of the time, I love just watching them explore and discover the world around them.
We are lucky enough to live in a city with many options of places to play, explore and learn in nature, something that we might have taken for granted. Cincinnati has one of the number one park system, with the Cincinnati Parks and Hamilton County Parks network, growing number or bike trails, plenty of creeks in the valleys, and more and more nature playscapes being built. Several schools have adopted and created their own playscapes, including Pleasant Ridge Montessori School and Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori School.
Nature playscape is an alternative to the traditional playground that offers natural features and endless unstructured play time. It is an international movement to bring nature to children and to encourage more outdoor time among children. Richard Louv and his famous book "No Child Left Behind" started this thought and followed by the growing Children and Nature Network with their initiatives, research and grass-root network. But places to explore nature is not limited to those. Our parks and forest offer more opportunities to explore nature. We have beaches, creeks, hiking trails, and meadows (yes, in Ohio).
There are several of our favorites we'd like to share:
Red Bird Hollow in Indian Hill
This trail is located on Given Rd. We were searching for a place my son could "fossil" hunt. My husband, who grew up here, remembered this place from his childhood. It's a beautiful shaded trail with a creek on the side. We walked the entire creek until it made a curve away from the trail. He had so much fun just to search for creatures and fossils.
French Park (hike, explore the creek, climb a tree)
This Cincinnati Park is located closer to Amberley Village and Pleasant Ridge neighborhoods. It's a popular park among the residents and a great location for a wedding. We like to roam around the trail that leads to the creek with stunningly tall trees surrounded the area. It's especially beautiful in the fall, but we tried the hike in the snow as well, and it was beautiful!
Cincinnati Nature Center in Milford, Ohio
Cincinnati Nature Center or Rowe Woods has the largest nature playscape in the country. The playscape is designed to mimic nature and to give the opportunity for unstructured play that children need. They can climb boulders, play with water up and down the creek, build a dam, explore the wildflowers and native trees, and do whatever they want.
I wish we live closer, or we definitely will be on the waiting list for the Nature Preschool located in the park. We went to its open house one time and the teacher took us for a nature walk where we found natural habitat for creatures, pet a snake (that lives in the class room), found a jumping mouse, and explore what lives under the tree stumps.
But we don't live closer to the nature center, so we visited in weekends and participated in their events such as this "National Mud Day" in back in July.
My children were in heaven! We put them in swim suit and ready to get dirty. I was imagining this pool of mud, though, but they set up mud stations where they can "cook and bake" with mud, paint with mud, and of course, get in the mud pit.
The great thing about the Cincinnati Nature Center playscape is that they have events all year long. And because it's an independent nature center, there's an annual membership fees, but daily admission fees option is available too.
Beyond the playscape, there are more things to explore.
The hiking trails are conveniently divided into smaller routes, perfect for those little feet. Mine usually is excited for the first five minutes, while he would complain the entire hike. We like to hope that someday he will love hiking and he will write his own "a walk in the woods". The other one stays in the backpack with my husband.
There are old growth forest trail, meadow trail, the very short paw-paw patch trail, and our other favorite is the pond. We love to sit on the boardwalk watching the turtles sunbathing. Because it's an educational forest, they have information about natural habitat and its dwellers on interactive signs.
Arlitt Playscape was a collaboration between Arlitt Preschool and the Cincinnati Nature Center. We like that it's located in the city and it's not hard to get to at all. The playscape is owned by Arlitt and University of Cincinnati and when the schools use it, it is closed for the public, but most of the time they are open. And no people. If we are lucky we'll find bees harvesting sweet nectar from the flowers in the learning garden.
Once in a while we might see some other kids in there, but most of the time, this place is where I get my "moment of zen". My kids would be immersed in play and they would stop calling for mama. There are plenty of opportunities for endless, unstructured play with their tree house, creek, fort, peeping holes, loose part play circle, tunnel, a learning garden, and a sand pit.
As much as I selfishly love my "moment of zen", I would love for other people to know that this place exist. Mostly because google doesn't recognize it as a separate place than Arlitt Preschool. The preschool is located on Edwards and Jefferson, but the playscape is located on University Circle, close to Jefferson and University Ave. Parking spaces are available around the zip car parking space on Daniels or the parking garages nearby.