If we left it up to Anne to write her own bio, it would never get posted. She doesn't enjoy talking about herself, but Anne does love exploring the Twin Cities with her family and sharing her finds here. She, her husband and their four kids are lifelong residents of St. Paul.All posts from Anne Kingston
Nature Playgrounds are a growing trend for good reason; scientists keep finding connections between nature to child development and well-being.
It used to be, according to my children, that in order for a park to be authentic, it needed at least a slide and a set of swings. I was less enthusiastic about taking them to places like state parks simply because I felt I’d have to go the extra mile to “prove” that playing and exploring in a natural environment could be just as fun as clambering around a commercially manufactured jungle gym. Don’t get me wrong – the local playgrounds can be a lot of fun, too. And some are really inventive! But I have to say that I get a deeper satisfaction from watching them play in a more natural setting: digging, figuring out how to climb that tree, following paths, building forts. They become immersed in tossing rocks into the water, scouting frogs, collecting wildflowers. They also gradually forget that “playing at the park” requires a plastic treehouse.
So here’s what I find really cool: incorporating natural elements into new playground designs seems to be the trend. More places are popping up where kids get the opportunity to interact with the landscape and, perhaps, develop a greater appreciation for it. Here are
seven places I’ve discovered that have those goals in mind:
5/2 & 5/4: MayDay Build Workshops | In the Heart of the Beast Puppet & Mask Theatre, Minneapolis • 7-9pm • Come help create floats for the annual MayDay celebration in Powderhorn Park. Artists will guide volunteers in creating a piece of their own or a contribution to a parade float.
Earth Day Network’s first Earth Day was in 1970. It’s continuing mission — “to broaden and diversify the environmental movement worldwide and to mobilize it as the most effective vehicle to build a healthy, sustainable environment, address climate change, and protect the Earth for future generations.”
For us, it’s a chance to teach our children about good stewardship of our planet, while getting out and enjoying the long-awaited spring. I think the spring thing may be why the Twin Cities Metro does not skimp on Earth Day activities and events. We have a sampling of Earth Day family events to get out with your kids and celebrate our environment this month.
Thanks to this month’s sponsor Rockin’ Jump! Check them out at FFTC’s Rockin’ Party on April 15.
Click here for more Rockin' Party InformationClick here for more information.
TWIN CITIES DECEMBER SPECIAL EVENTS – FREE
12/2: Forever Wild Family Friday: Scavenger Hunt @ Lebanon Hills Regional Park Visitor Center, Eagan • 7-8:30pm • Details: Drop in for smores and a nighttime hunt.
12/3: First Free Saturday: Walker Open House @ Walker Art Center, Minneapolis • 10am-3pm • Details: Activities are geared towards kids ages 6-12, but don’t let that stop you from bringing your littler ones! Free gallery admission for the whole family. Read More
Have you heard that the popular open houses at Brickmania Toyworks have re-opened the second Saturday of each month? They are no longer free, but a family of four can attend for $10 and enjoy the LEGO train layouts, play tables and much more. Also this weekend are free tours at the Raptor Center on the U of M St. Paul campus and a host of free family programs hosted by Three Rivers Parks. As always, check our Family Fun Calendar for more inspiration this weekend and beyond!
I’m loving the back-to-nature trend I’ve seen pop up at outdoor play spaces in the Twin Cities. As much as I appreciate neighborhood parks we can bike to, it’s refreshing to take a break from the standard play equipment and unleash the kids on a place like Discovery Hollow at Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Lake. This natural playground has been designed with all the elements kids crave: fallen logs and stumps to balance on, sticks to build forts, beautifully-engineered and arranged boulders to clamber over and a sufficient amount of sand and water to keep them entertained for hours.
How very typical of you, Minnesota. Last week you have the kids in short sleeves begging to hit the playground after school and a few days later the same kids will be heading to the bus stop bundled from head to toe. Fortunately, our Twin Cities-area nature centers are well-equipped when it comes to our state’s wacky weather ways. These places are packed with ways to stay entertained and cozy inside when the temps are cold — and when the sun decides to make an appearance, there are countless ways to enjoy the natural world outside. Read on for a look at three nature centers located in the northeast metro. And, did I mention, all this fun is to be had only at the cost of the gas to get you there?
Maplewood Nature Center
2659 East 7th St., Maplewood, MN 55119
Visitor Center hours: Tuesday – Saturday • 8:30am – 4:30pm
Indoor fun: With cutouts of trees on the walls, birds perched on the tree branches, and a sunken part of the floor made to resemble a pond, it’s easy to pretend you’re outdoors when, in reality, you’re stuck inside on a dreary day. My toddler loved the miniature animal set and the crawl-through log draped with animal pelts. Maplewood Nature Center often offers reasonably-priced ($5/kid) indoor family nature programs, usually combined with an outdoor activity. For a list of upcoming March & April events, click here.
Outdoor fun: The Nature Play Yard was a big hit with all four of my kids (ages 2-9). Who says a playground has to have elaborate equipment to be fun? This one has a ginormous tree trunk to climb on, sand for digging, hedges to hide in, materials to build a fort, and much more to spark creative nature play. If you can coax the kids out of the yard, there are hiking trails and a floating boardwalk from which to spot wildlife.
Harriet Alexander Nature Center
2520 North Dale St., Roseville, MN, 55113
Visitor Center hours: Tuesday – Saturday • 10am – 4pm
Indoor fun: An impressively realistic floor-to-ceiling “tree” now dominates the entrance to the nature center’s indoor exhibits. I don’t think my preschooler was as impressed as I was; she headed for a doctor’s kit and could have played veterinarian all day with stuffed forest friends. There’s also a library nook with children’s nature books, a back room crammed with tanks of turtles to observe, and a seasonal bee exhibit.
Outdoor fun: Harriet Alexander offers Sprouts, a great preschool program for kids ages 1-5 and their caregivers. You can enroll for a single day class ($14/first child, $7/additional children) or in a series of three ($36/first child, $18/additional). The classes combine indoor fun such as a make-and-take projects and games with outdoor exploration that encourages young children to connect with nature. Find out more about the classes here.
Tamarack Nature Center
5287 Otter Lake Rd., White Bear Township, MN 55110
Visitor Center hours: Monday – Friday • 8am – 4:30pm, Sat. 10am – 4:30pm, Sun. noon – 4:30pm
Discovery Hollow hours: Monday-Friday • 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., Saturday • 10 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., Sunday • Noon – 4:30 p.m.
Indoor fun: To tell you the truth, I don’t recall much about the indoor exhibits at Tamarack because the kids were so eager to play outside. But here’s an idea for the first Saturday of the month through May (and then every Saturday June – September): Tamarack hosts Drop-In Discovery Days at the interpretive center that are free, family-friendly, and based around nature and animals. To see examples of upcoming programs, click here.
Outdoor fun: What really shines at Tamarack is its glorious outdoor Discovery Hollow and Garden. Two things you really must know before you go: 1) bring a change of clothes for your kiddos unless you want a sopping wet drive home! As evidenced above, there are wonderful opportunities for them to dig in sand, mud and to get completely soaked. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of dry activities as well — beautifully-engineered rocks to clamber on, a garden to harvest vegetables from, logs to balance on, and sticks to build shelters with.) The second thing you should be aware of: plan to spend hours in Discovery Hollow.
Ready to put the holidays behind you? Read on for some ideas on how to spend the first weekend of the new year on the cheap! And as always, check our Family Fun Calendar for a complete list of what’s going on for families in the Twin Cities this weekend and beyond.
Saturday, January 3, 2014
Walker First Free Saturday: Birthday Bash
@ Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403
Time: 10am – 3pm
Details: Come help celebrate the Walker’s 75 years as a public art center with time-traveling performances, artful cupcakes, photo portraits, and special activities designed for kids ages 6-12 (though don’t let that scare you away from bringing your littler ones – all ages will have fun!).
Nature Rocks! Outdoor Center Open House
@ Staring Lake Outdoor Center
13765 Staring Lake Parkway, Eden Prairie, Minnesota 55347
Time: 9am – noon
Details: Enjoy free family-friendly activities such as hiking, interactions with live animals, craft projects and more. The event is held the first Saturday of each month.
Saturday Drop-in Discoveries: Cockatoo Corner
@ Tamarack Nature Center
5287 Otter Lake Road, White Bear Township, MN 55110
Time: 10am – noon
Details: The ongoing program (held the first Saturday of the month now through February 2015) features up-close visits with live animals, including Tamarack’s resident owls, snakes and salamanders. Kids can get hands-on with touchable artifacts, and sample edible treats from the Discovery Hollow garden.
Sunday, January 4, 2014
Free on-going Sunday activities:
Bell Museum Free Sundays
@ The Bell Museum of Natural History
10 Church Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455
Time: Noon – 5pm
Details: Admission is free every Sunday at The Bell – take the kids into the Touch & See Discovery Room to get hands-on with natural artifacts or take a scavenger hunt through the dioramas.
Free Family Fun Days: Feed Me!
@ Carl Kroening Interpretive Center in North Mississippi Regional Park
4900 North Mississippi Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55430
Time: 1 – 3pm
Details: Drop in throughout the afternoon for hands-on family activities. Stay to explore the kid-friendly exhibits and the live animal room.
Time: 1 & 3:30pm
Details: Featuring Allegro, Cantabile, Cantando, and Cantar. A freewill donation will be collected. Note: The Sundays at Landmark program will be held January 4 & January 18.