A playground of the oldest kind

| 15 Jul 2013 | 03:46

Some thin places—those places and moments that make you feel quite alive—can get made and not just found. That’s the energy behind the idea of “placemaking,” figuring out ways to build and rebuild spaces so that they enhance human experience.

One such recently-charged place is Grasshopper Grove, a half-acre pre-school Nature Play area that I helped build at the 175-acre Hudson Highlands Nature Museum in Cornwall, NY.

Nature Play is one of the responses to that catchy phrase Richard Louv coined a few years ago: nature deficit disorder. It implies that children (and adults too) are missing out on some very basic human nourishment by the increasing time spent indoors, with technology or even outdoors in highly organized leisure and sports activities. Humans are genetically built for life with nature.

Nature Play areas have been the reaction to the colorful, plastic, cushioned directive playgrounds found in most communities and schools. Nature Play leans more towards the unstructured and disordered. Yes, there are things to do at a Nature Play area, but it is also a nice place to just be and see what happens.

Grasshopper Grove is the first such place in the Mid-Hudson region and even among other Nature Play areas it is special in the great number of features it offers. They range from the simplicity of a dirt pile and logs to climb and jump on to a rustic gazebo and Adirondack trail hut. But the heart of all this is what’s called “loose parts,” just an area that has stuff in it: bark, branches, log ends, pine cones, driftwood…whatever is found around. Loose parts honors a very old and nearly forgotten human skill. All people, children and adults, can figure things out. Just show them the stuff and they’ll find something to do with it. Nature Play areas return the experience of real play and appropriate risk to a child’s life.

By Daniel Mack