By Kelly Youngblood
A nature playscape will open this month in Urbana offering local families a new place to play and learn outdoors.
Friendship Grove Nature Playscape, located next to the Anita Purves Nature Center, will officially open to the public on April 22. A grand opening celebration will be held from 4-6 p.m.
The playscape, which is a little more than half an acre, features climbing logs, digging areas, tunnels, forts and lots of “loose parts” for children to engage in imaginative play.
The area is ADA accessible and targeted for children ages 5-12 but younger or older kids can play there as well.
Savannah Donovan, the environmental public program coordinator at the Urbana Park District, said it is a more creative type of play space than traditional playgrounds.
Instead of slides and swings, a nature playscape offers a lot of “loose parts” that can be manipulated such as plants, logs, sticks, soil, and rocks.
Donovan said children engage in more creative play when they are playing with loose parts. “A stick isn’t just a stick to a child. It could become anything,” she said.
Donovan said the Urbana playscape started as a “twinkle in the eye” of environmental program manager Judy Miller in 2003.
“(Judy) is always looking for what is next and great in environmental education,” she said.
In 2014, the park district surveyed children to find out what they would want to have at a nature playscape. Staff comprised a wish list, looked at examples of other playscapes and honed down their ideas to accommodate space and a budget. Eventually they broke ground on the project in September 2016.
The total estimated cost for the nature playscape is about $170,000. Around $100,000 was raised through grants and donations.
Donovan hopes the playscape will encourage families who normally stick to traditional playgrounds to enjoy the benefits of playing in nature.
Research has shown that being in nature offers physical, emotional and cognitive benefits for both children and adults, she said.
Donovan said she wants parents to bring their children to the playscape and feel comfortable letting them touch plants and get used to the idea that kids can get muddy.
“Ultimately we need children and their families to be more connected to nature because the environment is all we have to support us,” Donovan said.
She added, “We want little environmental stewards to be budding here and to have a comfort and familiarity with nature that will take them into adulthood and allow them to make positive choices.”
If you are interested in making a donation to future development of the nature playscape, contact Ellen Kirsanoff, UPD development manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-367-1536.
The Urbana Park District is also accepting donations of “loose parts” for play. Here is a list of possible donation items.
Check out our review of the other nature playscape in the area, the Natural Playscape at Homer Lake.