Nature Playscapes–Zoo New England

Zoo New England educators Stephanie Veitz and Jennifer Jenson asked us if we’d be interested in being one of the first to check out their new natural playscapes.  Let’s think about the type of things that make it onto the “Angelika and Lindsay perk up their ears” list:

  • playspace– CHECK!
  • natural elements and recycled materials–CHECK!
  • community partnerships–CHECK!
  • nature mentoring–CHECK!
  • art–CHECK!
  • efficient, creative, and environmentally responsible use of under-utilized empty space–CHECK!
  • being surrounded by actual perky-eared animals–CHECK!

Yes, I think Zoo New England thought correctly!  They invited us to take a look at their work in progress last weekend.  This time, we went to check out the Stone Zoo, although they are constructing a similar playscape at Franklin Park, as well.

Check out the sensory table!  They can easily change out the contents, although these selections are hits:


While a focus is child-led exploring, they offer a variety of prompts.  Here’s a nature guide worksheet.  They also include leaf rubbing supplies, a scavenger hunt, and will continue to include more based on observation and inspiration.  IMG_1471

What would your children do with a simple wooden frame?  Bridget and Fiona just completed Friends of the Fells youth programming and were inspired to share their recently honed lean-to skills.  This will be a likely be a common approach, but I bet it will be far from the only one.


Colorful blocks, flowers, and mirrors?  Add some art to your engineering, or discuss optics, color, and more:


The girls took to the “balance beams” right away.  They will also be including a variety of stumps to hop on or hide behind in this space.


The zoos expect to open these spaces to the public by the first week of August, 2016. One exciting addition that had not yet been installed: a large nest replica the children can climb in, similar to the one near the bears Smokey and Bubba!  The space opens next month, but they plan to continue to tweak, develop, and listen to input and feedback.  They’d also like to run workshops with groups–if you’d be interested in joining a Playground Hunt contingent, let us know!  When will you go check out the new Zoo New England playscapes?



Playground Tourism–April Vacation Fun!

It’s getting to be prime playground season!

I just took a trip to Colorado and New Mexico, and Angelika used to live out that way.  My family and I saw some fantastic playgrounds!  I figured I’d do a quick write up of some of the best.

Whether you’re able to make it to visit them someday or not, I figured they may be of interest because a) when we share articles on our Facebook feed about playgrounds around the world, they are always super-duper popular–there seems to be a high interest among our followers in what people are doing elsewhere and b) seeing these pictures will let you think about what elements you like most, whether you’re looking for a similar one to visit or looking to do a build.

We stayed with friends in Trinidad, CO.  This one stood out.  It is not huge or particularly fancy, but it has a great “treehouse” feel with amazing tunnel slides.  Their benches are beautifully decorated with tiles depicting local history.


Taos, New Mexico, is well-known for its Twirl Play and Discovery Space.  This beautiful and artistic playground is known for not just being a place for kids to meet and climb, but as a local institution–they have programming, welcome art installations, and work closely with community partners. (As always, click on thumbnails to enlarge.)





Who knew Colorado was known for a reptile park?  Well, I didn’t.  We love their alligator shaped play structure!


Did you travel over April vacation, or get a chance to spend time exploring New England?  If you went to a great playground or attraction, let us know in the comments.  Or better yet–let us know if you’d like to write a guest post!



Nature Pen Pal Exchange

Bridget with an alder branch

Bridget with an alder branch

I’ve had pen pals since I learned to write.  I remember rushing home from school to check the mailbox. In some ways, the advent of social media didn’t feel so new to me:  While I love getting together with friends in person, I’ve been long used to interacting daily through words, pictures, and fun little shares.


Some friends share this passion, and now our kids are pen pals, as well.  It has been a multi-generational connection!  So when one of them told me about the Nature Pal Exchange, knowing that if anything is more up my alley than writing, it is nature geek stuff, I was immediately intrigued.


Opening our box!

Opening our box!

They do periodic matches and themed swaps, all surrounding a nature theme.  You can exchange letters and goodies, just as you would with any traditional pen pal, but the point is to include nature specimens as well.  I was relieved to see the founders of the program put a large focus on preventing the spread of invasives, with multiple guidelines and references on sterilization and disposal tips.  Many of the participants are homeschoolers–I see why–it is a great curriculum addition, but you don’t have to be one to participate.

Check out our box ready to go out.  We included a corn husk doll, a map from our state park, “beads” made from branches by insects, a drawing, and many small and sterilized samples:


We were excited to find out our pen pals are from Fox Island, Washington, near Mount Rainier, and in the Puget Sound.  It is a green and temperate coastal area like where we live, but it is clear on the other end of the country.  And that’s part of what was so much fun–seeing the similarities and differences.


We each sent the other two kinds of lichen, and all four were very distinct.  We both find a lot of sand dollars on our local beaches, but the Pacific ones tend to be much larger. It wasn’t all science–we loved hearing about how they frequently forage salal berries to put in their pancakes.


We were thankful for a way to merge two of our favorite hobbies and interests and learn a lot and make new friends at the same time.  How do you and your families combine your interests?

Snake Fern and Bracken Fern

Snake Fern and Bracken Fern


Daisy Petal Worksheets – Printable

I’m creating worksheets from the Girl Scouts Daisy Flower Friends. There are ten of them, which guide Daisies through earning each of the ten petals. I use these to give to the girls after we spend a meeting on the petal activities, to fill out at home and return them the next meeting to be given their petal. I will keep updating this page until all ten are here 🙂


So a funny thing happened the other day. No I didn’t walk into a bar – what happened was that I somehow signed up to become a scout leader. You are now looking at the proud troop co-leader of Girl Scout troop 72055.
All this is a little bit crazy of course because I have so many health issues which is also the reason why I haven’t blogged very much recently.
Instead I have been reinventing the wheel by making Daisy troop printables.
I’ve been on Pinterest a lot.

Somewhere I saw a blog post that talked about giving the girls a handout to work on at home. This was supposed to reinforce whatever activity or petal there working on that week.

In our first meeting we worked on the Light Blue Petal – Honest and Fair. We read the story from the handbook, we guided the girls through fairly splitting uneven snacks, and practiced honesty by playing Musical Chairs. I then gave them this handout to work on until the next meeting. They are supposed to bring it back filled in to next meeting to be given their Light Blue Petal.

Download it for your own troop by clicking here:

How to Raise a Wild Child


I received an advance reader’s copy of the book How to Raise a Wild Child by paleontologist and educator Scott Sampson over six months ago, and I’m just getting around to talking about it in this unsponsored review.  Is the fact I was busy raising wild children a good excuse?  I’d like to think so.

It is impossible to talk about a book about children and nature without bringing up Richard Louv’s contemporary classic The Last Child in the Woods.  In Louv’s book, he talks about how much reduced exposure to the natural world has so deeply changed society, and about what we can do to get some of those benefits back.  His Children & Nature Network has become an entire movement.

Scott Sampson’s new book has already joined Louv’s as a critically acclaimed go-to reference, but although they both have a very similar mission this book takes on a much different angle.

Louv’s book very much preaches to the choir.  It appealed most to those who already had one foot *out* the door.  He also wrote extensively about how the modern world’s infrastructure has changed our relationship with nature.  It is engagingly and accessibly written, and interesting from historical and sociological points of views. It captured the attention of a broad audience, from educators to politicians to conservationists and other scientists.

How to Raise a Wild Child seems to be more directed at the parents, but it doesn’t come off as condescending at all, as some parenting books can be.

He speaks of free play, of just immersing oneself in nature, and touches quite a bit on nature mentoring.  He explains how nature mentoring should not be preachy, and should be child-led.  You’re there as a guide, and not as a lecturer.  Nature mentoring can mean anything from starting a Forest Kindergarten for your community (thanks Angelika!) to simply not brushing your children off when they say “Why is the sky blue?”

Personally, I like to let my children be independent and push boundaries outdoors, but “free-range parenting” just brings to mind fried chicken to me (or maybe I’m just hungry from running around outside?) and helicopter parents are generally seen as too clingy.  He includes a great quote from nature writer Michele Whitaker:
“I call myself a hummingbird parent.  I tend to stay physically distant to let them explore and problem solve, but zoom in at moments when safety is an issue (which isn’t very often).”
This nature metaphor sounds like an appealing happy medium!

Your nature mentorship can have a broader reach than you’d suspect.  Over at the Friends of the Fells, where Angelika and I are both involved, another staffer and I discovered we had the same science teacher–at opposite ends of the state.  He taught and influenced me in the foothills of the Berkshires and her on Cape Cod.  And now we’ve met in the middle, working together to educate children on the same subject he helped inspire passion for.  Thanks Paul Niles!

Another thing Sampson focuses on is “thrivability”.  He doesn’t like the word “sustainability” because it has a bit of a “just treading water” feel.  We can do better than that!  Some nature geeks completely eschew screen time and technology.  As the host of PBS’s Dinosaur Train, it would be disingenuous if Sampson completely brushed it off.  It can be a matter of balance and perspective.  If your child is fascinated by “technology” but you’d like to expose them to more nature, consider GPS systems or telescopes and so on as a gateway.

I put technology in quotes because that is another area where perspective comes into play.  Some things are more transformed and processed than others, but truly the whole world is natural, is it not?  We need to keep sustainability (thrivability?) in mind when interacting with the world, but it might benefit us more to stop viewing them as separate.  We should innovate and support our human population in a way that is best in tune with our fauna and flora and the rest of the planet.  We’re all in it together and should stop viewing nature as separate.  The world right now is a very different place than it was several hundred or several thousand or several hundred thousand years ago.  But overall?  We still view it as beautiful.  Some conservation discussions take an Armegeddon approach.  While it is a serious subject indeed, that tends to inspire more hopelessness and depression than connection and action.  Yes, it is likely the status quo won’t remain.  The way we live on this planet will likely change in a big way–in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse.  But we’ll likely still see it as beautiful even if it is indeed very different.

This train of thought can be especially important in urban wilderness regions like the Greater Boston area.  Scott Sampson’s book has become an instant classic in outdoor education circles.  Start small–like with picking up this book!–and look at the big picture.


Stanley Park–Westfield, MA


Our followers in Western Massachusetts are probably familiar with Stanley Park.  It is large, beautiful, well-known, and has lots of amenities.  Those of you in Eastern Massachusetts (and everywhere!) who went to Westfield State University–as I did!–are surely familiar with Stanley Park.  The students are lucky enough to have it practically on campus.  It’s not officially, but it might as well be.  If neither of these things apply to you, and you’re one of our Greater Boston readers, this park may still be worth a visit.  It is quite close to Six Flags New England and other tourist attractions, so it is a doable side visit.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That's the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That’s the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

As usual, playgrounds are a top priority for us and Stanley Park has a great one–a relatively recent rebuild.  It is large, and ADA accessible, with a toddler structure as well.  Stanley Park is quite accessible overall, and has an annual “Wheel Walk” tour to showcase this.
Some playground highlights include an extra large twisty slide, and a huge canopied sandbox.  The playground is fenced, and dogs aren’t allowed in that area, but are welcome leashed in the rest of the park.

(Click to enlarge thumbnails)


Stanley Park was founded by philanthropist Frank Stanley Beveridge in 1949. He moved to Massachusetts as a teen but he was originally from Canada–a legacy that is shown in the famous black squirrels he introduced to the park.

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of "tree fort".

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of “tree fort”.


Stanley Park has many other amenities.  It will always hold a special place in our hearts because Craig and I got married there, right between the Rose Garden, the fountain, and the dinosaur tracks!  It also has many other award-winning gardens, hiking trails, playing fields, and event pavilions.  They are known for their historical tours and the wide variety of community-building events they host.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I'll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I’ll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

Please take some time to check out some more photos at the Facebook feed and the park webpage linked above. We were rushing around with small kids and didn’t have time to do the gorgeous grounds justice photography-wise.

Do you have any favorite Stanley Park memories?




Springs Brook Park

The last time we went to Springs Brook Park was two years ago. Last year they closed in early/middle August and we missed the chance to go. We made sure to go this year:

SPRINGS BROOK PARK is a man-made, filtered, swimming facility. The park is set back in a beautiful wooded setting. It is located at 181 Springs Road, just north of the four way intersection at Springs Road, Page Road and Pine Hill Road. SBP is staffed by lifeguards/swim instructors who are certified in water safety,lifeguard training, first aid and professional rescuer CPR.

Turns out there are some changes for this year. For 2015 the park is not open on weekends. There is now minigolf and a few other extra things to do.

General Info

Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:30-7:30 —  Saturday & Sunday: CLOSED (Park will not be open on weekends summer 2015.)

Cost: $7 per person, with a maximum of $25 per family, free for under 1y.o.

GPS coordinates:


Springs Brook Park has a decent sized parking lot, which is free. I like to get there as close as possible to opening as I can. I suggest arriving before 11am, or after 3pm.

Stuff to Do

  • Sandy beach with shade
  • playground
  • sprinkler park
  • water slide (must be >9y.o., or level 3 swimmer, or wear a life jacket)
  • swim lessons
  • volleyball, basketball, golfball (I’m sure that should be a thing)
  • concession stand (reasonably priced – e.g., icecreams are $1 to $2) that sells snacks, icecream, drinks, hot dogs, pizza
  • mini golf
  • barbecue spots
  • picnic tables


playground photos

Playground at Springs Brook Park

lake photos

Panorama of man made lake at Springs Brook Park


Beach and Lake at Springs Brook Park


Lake at Springs Brook Park

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park - sorry, it looks wonky as panorama

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park – sorry, it looks wonky as panorama

Figment Boston 2015

We needed a Figment Boston fix!  Last year we took the train to the city, and the skies opened up.  We got in exactly one round of garden gnome mini-golf before the festival shut down early due to inclement weather.

For this weekend’s festival, the skies were also quite overcast on the way in, but it stayed dry enough to make the most of the festivities all weekend.  Plus, while we’ve been lucky enough to be able to spend half the summer camping, weekends home have been tied up with various obligations and home repair–part of the reason updates have been slow in coming.  It was nice and relaxing to do something purely fun in our own area!

To read more about the history and the mission behind the Figment art festival click here to read our last post on the subject.  Meanwhile, on to the fun stuff:

The installation below is called the Collabyrinth.  Participants attempt to move the ball through the maze by stepping on panels.  All the displays are creative and interactive, but it is not a requirement that they be Boston-themed.  People seem to get a kick out of it when they are, though.



The contraption below is called Mobius Chess.  I’m not going to lie.  I’m a pretty high energy person who does not usually have the focus to sit down and play strategic games.  But a glowing 3-D chess game on a dance floor?  I might be tempted to give it a try!  Add in the commentary (intended or not) that this “game of life” goes on indefinitely, and they’ve got a neat concept here.


Mobius Chess

Next up was Look to Start.  Someone had artistically embedded simple words in homemade bricks, and the concept was basically the same as magnetic poetry. My 6-year-old is a beginning reader, and she was thrilled she could make out all the words.  She then proceeded to spell out “My but but” and giggle but others came up with more profound messages.

Look To Start

Look To Start

This is Sprite’s Delight.  They are leaping water fountains.  They were like a poor man’s version of the Imagination Fountains at Epcot, but the low budget aspect did not faze any of the kids (or adults).  Everyone was entranced, wanting to chase the droplets.

Sprite's Delight

Sprite’s Delight

The installation below is called Place:  Suspended.  There was a little green platform with train set props and little toys. Participants could design their own park, and then it’d be sent up on an anchored balloon periodically.  This was a big hit!  The kids play with their doll house only sporadically but I suspect this could have kept them occupied all day–perhaps because they love nature themes. Plus, we love anything related to park rebuilds here at Playground Hunt.


This one is called Color Drops.  “Nest Rests” are becoming more and more trendy.  Nearly everyone I talk to would love one for their yard, and it’d be fun to see more in urban spaces, as well.

Color Drops

Color Drops

For Exquisite Creature, they had a frame where you could cover up two thirds of the paper, and participants took turns drawing a head, a body, or feet without knowing what their teammates created.  Many whimsical and hilarious drawings emerged.  This could be easily adapted at home.  I will definitely keep it up my sleeve for rainy days.  Click to enlarge to get a better look at the crazy critters (both the drawings and my spawn).

Exquisite Creature

Exquisite Creature

This is just a small sampling of what was there! In addition to the art booths, there were many performances. There was the “Happily Booth” performance art space, many dance shows, and a bubble wrap dance floor combined with a bubble blowing station.


Bridget looks like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but in truth her mood was lighter than ever!

We always have a wonderful time at Figment!  If I had a question or criticism it would be about the fact there were a good handful of booths sitting empty.  In the past, we’d only been able to make it on Sunday so we weren’t sure if a lot of people just don’t make it the second day.  But this year we made it on a busy Saturday and it was the same.  They may have drop-outs, or some artists may only come at night.  We haven’t tried that yet!  I heard it turns into a whole different place, and many of the installations are built to incorporate light or glow-sticks.  I’m not sure if it is as kid-friendly then, but we hope to experience it one day.  Either way, an explanation for the obvious gaps would be nice, but there is still PLENTY to see, so they cause more curiousity than disappointment.

In addition to the Figment sponsored art, it is a good time to go check out the Greenway Conservancy Public Art Program installations, from Janet Echelman’s As If It Were Already Here, and beyond.

As always, Playground Hunt is excited to take part in events that combine green space, community, and art, and we look forward to next year, as well as some of the other events and festivals our creative city is known for.