Our expansive outdoor exhibit features several play areas, each with its own theme. Each area offers unique and innovative outdoor experiences designed to engage children and their families through activities such as building, digging, nature art, climbing, music and movement.
Our Nature Explore Outdoor Exhibit draws on field-tested, research-based principles to create effective spaces that support children’s interactions with the natural world. The concept plan was developed collaboratively by the EcoTarium and the Nature Explore organization, based on these principles. In August of 2014, our exhibit received National Certification as a “Nature Explore Classroom” by the Nature Explore organization.
Entering Nature Explore, children and families will find the following play areas:
Gathering Area: This flexible space with wooden benches offers a welcoming space for orientation, hands-on science programs, or even story time for our younger visitors.
Sand Digging Area: Bring your young builders and diggers here to create while you enjoy the natural log seating, or help make sand masterpieces!
Building Area: Using natural, child-sized building materials such as wooden blocks, mini-bricks, and tree blocks, children can build the house, castle, or city of their imagination.
Nature Art Area: Set on a deck under trees, this area inspires close observation and creativity with natural art materials on specially-designed nature art tables. Make your own pieces of art, create a sculpture, paint, or build a fairy house!
Messy Materials Area: In this large space, children can use a wide variety of natural materials (logs, twigs, tree cookies, and fabric) to build over-sized collaborative projects such as forts or shelters.
Dirt Digging Area: This area encourages children to use tools as well as their imagination. From a mud kitchen to engineering projects, the sky’s the limit.
Climbing and Crawling Area: Anchored by existing play structures from our Freedman Playground, this area is all about physical motor play. Visit old favorites such as the climbing net and climbing structures, or try the new crooked natural log balance beam.
Fox Den Area: In a simple den, children can pretend to be a fox, a fairy, or an explorer camping in the wilderness.
Eagle Nest Area: We've kept this favorite play structure for kids to role-play while sitting on one of the big eagle eggs.
Music and Movement Area: In this area, a stage has been constructed to host guest performers and a wide range of programs by EcoTarium staff. We also welcome impromptu performances by our visitors!
Open Area: This is the space for large-motor activities such as running, jumping, dancing, or playing active games. In winter, it becomes the perfect spot for building snow people or snow forts.
Water Play Area: Children are invited to experiment, investigate, and observe the properties of water in a safe, open-ended environment. Hone math and science skills when measuring with watering cans or studying cause and effect scenarios when using the hand pump (seasonal). Or, just splash!
Why did we build Nature Explore?
Studies show that children today spend significantly less time outside than previous generations. As a result, we’re seeing epidemic childhood obesity, a prevalence of attention difficulties, and further pressures on our educational systems. We believe, and research shows, that regular time spent playing in nature:
- Facilitates better social and physical development
- Improves fitness, motor skills and well being
- Supports creativity and imaginative play
- Inspires collaboration and reduces violence and bullying
- Creates feelings of empathy for nature
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Science, math and engineering skills
- Language and literacy
- Visual-spatial learning
- Art appreciation
Thank You to our Donors and Sponsors
Pave the Way
Want to leave your lasting impression in the new exhibit?
Personalize and purchase an engraved brick paver, which will be installed in main path through the exhibit. Personalized pavers make great gifts!