My preschooler’s request for a simple picnic in April turned into a full afternoon of nature play, wildlife spotting and cargo-net clambering. And, thanks to the warm temps, we were able to be outdoors for hours. Bonus: if you can make it out this month, you’ll beat both the crowds and the mosquitoes! Here are 10 things we’re confident kids of all ages can enjoy at the Richardson Nature Center and Hyland Lake Park Reserve:
1. In the outdoor Nature Exploration Area, build away at stick shelters and bridges over a shallow ravine. It’s amazing what happens when kids realize that going to the “playground” doesn’t have to involve a plastic slide and swings.
2. Put on a one-of-a-kind show at the woodland puppet theater inside the Richardson Nature Center. I had a front row seat for the children’s production of “Wake Up, It’s Spring!”
3. Mural scavenger hunt – the walls of the nature center are popping with colorful critters. Pick a card from the scavenger hunt bucket and see if you can spy the corresponding animal in its natural habitat.
4. A preschool-sized pond-shaped table and cattail chairs make a great spot to spread out with nature puzzles & books.
5. In the “backyard observation room” an activity box is stocked with binoculars, birding charts and other suggestions for getting kids interested in observing wildlife. A wall of windows overlooks a space arranged with bird feeders, hollow logs, a small pond and ample trees to encourage the wildlife to put themselves on display.
6. Get up closer to birds of prey at the indoor/outdoor raptor exhibit.
7. It’s possible to check out free exploring equipment at the front desk including junior-sized frog and pond kits. Then, take to one of the gentle trails looping around the nature center. All six are less than a mile in length for younger hikers.
8. Preschool programs & Free Family Fun Days are presented weekly or monthly at Richardson: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs, My Preschooler & Me, Puppet Escapades, and Free Family Fun Days are inexpensively priced and ideal for the whole family. Find any of these through the Three Rivers Program Calendar.
9. When it’s time to cool off, Bush Lake Beach is conveniently across the road and features a sandy space, guarded swimming, concessions and grills. No vehicle permit is necessary until the beach officially opens in early June and you are allowed to swim at your own risk. A $7.25 per vehicle permit is required during the summer months.
10. The “Chutes & Ladders” playground is the well-known and well-deserved nickname of the giant Hyland Lake Park Reserve playground just down the road from the nature center and beach. There are myriad climbing and sliding opportunities for all ages here plus sand and a small spray zone. Just be prepared for crowds when school gets out and a challenge when it comes to locating your kids!
Richardson Nature Center within
Hyland Lake Park Reserve
8737 E Bush Lake Rd, Bloomington
Park hours: 5am-10pm
Nature center hours: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm
Hyland Play Area hours: 9am-sunset, April-October
Admission is FREE for the above.