Prairie Patch Play Area
The idea behind a nature play space is that, instead of the standard metal and plastic structures seen in the majority of major playgrounds, park goers can incorporate surrounding landscape and vegetation to teach nature among a child’s daily outdoor playtime. Last summer, the Wheaton Park District broke ground on a nature play area within the 151-acre Lincoln Marsh Natural Area and plan to open this Earth Day, April 22.
Research shows that nature play positively impacts children’s social, emotional, intellectual and physical well-being. The concept of a nature play area, in addition to the atypical playground equipment, is that it brings children and their families together to explore, play and learn in an unstructured and natural environment.
Examples of equipment aren’t really equipment at all – natural materials such as boulders, streams and logs can all be considered part of a nature play space. According to the Children and Nature Network, benefits of nature play can range from improved relationship skills and vitamin D levels to a boost in academic performance and increased enthusiasm for learning.
These reasons and many more are why Lincoln Marsh is the perfect location for a nature play space. On behalf of ComEd and their Green Region Program, Openlands, Lincoln Marsh was approved for a grant to support the play area. These grants support open space projects that focus on planning, acquisition, and improvements to local parks, natural areas and recreation resources.
“I am really excited about the addition of the Prairie Patch Play Area at Lincoln Marsh as I appreciate how valuable getting kids’ outdoors discovering and exploring nature is,” Lincoln Marsh Program Manager Terra Johnson said. “My goal with this project is to provide a natural place that families feel comfortable letting their children play and explore in an outdoor setting different from a conventional playground, using the resources they encounter in nature.”
Connecting people to nature and getting outdoors isn’t a new concept to Wheaton Park District. Over 10 years ago (2007), Lincoln Marsh Natural Area joined with Chicago Wilderness to launch a regional initiative called “Leave No Child Inside”, with the goal of improving children’s health and fostering generations of children who care enough for nature to protect it. Through this initiative it encouraged kids and adults alike to take a break from their computers, televisions and cell phones and go out in nature to run, jump, play and explore.
The Wheaton community is fortunate to have the Lincoln Marsh as a resource to inspire that sense of wonder in the outdoors. Enjoying the outdoors is a fun, healthy way to spend quality time with family. Experts also believe giving children unstructured playtime outside fosters creativity and healthy childhood development, while helping prevent childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder and emotional stress.
“Ultimately, perhaps those who are new to exploring outdoors (or the natural world) will then be encouraged to explore further seeking an adventure in the abundance of nature that Lincoln Marsh offers or join one of the many classes we provide connecting people to nature,” Johnson said. “By providing the Prairie Patch play area, my hope is to instill and promote a sense of wonder and discovery of our natural world in those who play there.”
Projects & Improvements
In the summer of 2018, the Wheaton Park District will break ground on a nature play area within the 151-acre Lincoln Marsh Natural Area. The location of the play area is adjacent to the Lincoln Avenue entrance.
Research indicates nature play positively impacts children’s social, emotional, intellectual and physical well-being. The concept of a nature play area, devoid of the typical playground equipment, is that it brings children and their families together to explore, play and learn in an unstructured and natural environment. Nature play areas include elements that encourage self-guided, unstructured play. As the name indicates, many of these elements are natural, such as logs and boulders.
The project is being funded through the ComEd Green Region Grant and Friends of the Lincoln Marsh.