A child’s desire to play is, well, natural.
Getting outdoors in the winter is the best place for kids to blow off steam. There are hundreds of parks in Niagara, but there are a handful with playgrounds that encourage kids to be kids and connect with nature while they’re at it.
They’re natural playgrounds and these unique structures incorporate logs, boulders, slopes, flowers and trees for climbing, all to encourage healthy and positive relationships with nature.
How healthy? A 2012 University of Tennessee at Knoxville study found that children who play on natural playgrounds tend to be more active than those who play on traditional play structures with brightly coloured equipment or metal. They also stimulate discovery and learning — and, of course, fun for the whole family.
Here are eight natural playgrounds in Niagara that do that.
Boulders, a range of wooden structures, lots of lush grass and a stone tower set atop a gentle slope integrating a Spiral Mountain concept are the calling cards of this natural playground in one of Niagara’s oldest hamlets. Landscape architect Mike Salisbury developed this play space to provide high level interpretation of indigenous and colonial symbols — fitting given the location near the site of a key battle in the War of 1812 where both colonial and indigenous forces fended off their American attackers.
There are more than 16,000 square feet of natural play space here. The playground is built under a 300-year-old oak tree, and the focal point is a treehouse surrounding the its massive trunk. Rolling hills, tunnels, log jams, a climbing wall, slides, a willow fort and forest floor plantings are among the fun features for children to explore.
There’s something to be said about getting your hands dirty by digging into the earth, and smelling the flowers and trees. This is the place to do that. Mountainview is the first natural playground built at a children’s mental health facility in Canada. Dubbed a brain sanctuary, it — and others like it — promotes mindfulness and being the moment.
Set atop the Niagara Escarpment and along the Bruce Trail, this playscape is all about getting to know the natural features that make this region so unique. In addition to the TD Friends of the Environment Treehouse, there are pollinator and native species gardens and stone paths. The piece de resistance is bronze sculpture underscoring the joy brought on by letting loose with Mother Nature as a playmate.
This gem nestled among provincially significant wetlands is home to one of the largest treehouses in all of Canada. Boardwalks throughout this inclusive park allow people of all ages and abilities to get as close to nature as possible, including meeting some of forest’s residents, who live freely here. It’s the ideal spot to take in all the sights, sounds and smells within a sprawling 200 acres.
Nature has reclaimed this former landfill site and made it a sensory feast for folks of all ages. Think of it as Niagara’s Central Park, with a large pond filled with schools of catfish always hungry for a feeding, several paths of varying distances, a children’s science and nature area, and some of the best views in all of Niagara, including of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Falls skyline.
It’s not a playground in a traditional sense but it is one of Niagara’s most picturesque spots. St. John’s features short walking trails through the Carolinian forest. All of them converge on a large, reflective pond stocked annually with trout for fishing.
This forested swath is named after Mary Malcomson, the woman who started the first Girl Guide company in 1910 right here in St. Catharines. It features natural trails that provide up-close views of native flora and fauna, and which connect with the popular Welland Canals Parkway Trail and the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail nearby.
Whether it’s a more structured natural playground that appeals or simply just getting out and playing in nature, there’s undoubtedly a park on this list that’s bound to become a favourite outdoor refuge for you and your family. Now go and get outside.