Friday, September 11, 2015

Play Hard and Get Dirty!

Playing in the tunnel
For one last summer get away my family and I snuck off to the Blue Ridge Mountains for a few days. It was a glorious get away, and one of the highlights of the trip was exploring the Play Trail at Boxerwood Gardens in Lexington, Virginia. It was magical, and if we hadn't been interrupted by our growling stomachs we could have stayed there forever, eating in the mud kitchen, digging to China, playing with the life-size Lincoln Logs, running in and out of the various hidden tree-formed play spaces, and just generally getting dirty outside.

There was somewhat of a sense of magic that seemed to linger over the play space as children kept discovering new wonders around every turn. Some of these wonders were planted there by the designers- the tunnel, the mud pie kitchen, the play camp fires- while other wonders were just there- the moss, acorns, trees, leaves, and flowers- that would have been overlooked on a suburban playground. Here, those small natural treasures called out to be played with.

Digging to China is serious work
Life size Lincoln Logs!
Cooking on the play campfire
Tight rope walking!
Both of my girls absolute favorite part of the play trail was the mud pie kitchen. It had a kitchen area complete with a life-size sink and two shelving units where children can select the perfect pan. Next to it was the "Dirty Bistro" where the creations of the mud kitchen could be served to friends or adults. Notice the stump-stairs on the walk up encouraging gross motor skills.
Selecting the right pan
Nearby was a wash station stocked with scrub brushes where the children could un-mud the dishes. I noticed this was extremely popular, not just with my own daughter but with the other visiting children as well.

I watched my suburban girls slowly become comfortable with scooping up mud, moss, and sticks. My particular four year old stopped worrying about getting mud on her shirt and started looking for little nature finds- special rocks, twigs, and grasses- to put into her mud pies. We need more of this- places that light a match to the imagination without handing the child an already created play scheme. More play spaces that foster exploration and creativity, encouraging our little ones to use their gross and fine motor skills in a natural, spontaneous way.

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