There’s a new playground in town, but it isn’t what you might imagine. Tarrytown, New York, with the help of the Natural Playgrounds Company in Concord, New Hampshire, has begun the first phase of constructing a natural play space in the town’s Neperan Park.
Unlike traditional play structures, the new playground is built with a child’s natural sense of free-spirited adventure in mind. Conventional apparati like monkey bars and free-standing swings are replaced by rock scrambles, nature paths, and log balance-beams. Children are intrinsically inclined toward unstructured, open-ended play and exploration. Typical playgrounds offer kids the opportunity to challenge their gross-motor skills but do little to encourage imaginative play or to nurture their social or emotional connections to one another. A natural playground offers children numerous options to create their own adventures. Because the structures are incorporated into the park’s existing landscape their play is always new.
Our first visit to Neperan Park’s new playground was a resounding success. After a short hike down the Old Croton Aqueduct trail ending at the park, the kids headed straight to the wooded area on the park’s periphery where the first structures had been installed.A steep slide built right into the hill was the first order of business for many kids. And while the fast ride down was definitely a thrill, having to negotiate a series of well-placed boulder steps up to the slide’s entrance was equally captivating. The kids swarmed the hill, attempting to scale their way to the top from myriad angles. Several of those attempts ended, much to their delight, with a hearty down-hill slide in the dirt.
A log, climbing structure also had it’s appeal, and being a bit lower to the ground, the younger kids flocked to this area. Kids sat and talked on the logs. They scurried beneath them. They climbed up and walked along their lengths, testing their balance. They hung and dangled and jumped. The logs became a house, a train, a horse, a tunnel. See if all that happens with some monkey bars.
Climbing up another group of rock steps, the kids made their way up to a woodland path that wends it’s way through the trees to a series of platforms called the “lookout tower.”Kids immediately adopted the structure as a fortress as well as their roles within that great fortress, creating passwords for entry, keeping enemies at bay, looking out for dangers lurking below. They ran up and down the boardwalk, hopping from level to level, hiding out in their new-found clubhouse.
And so it went, kids climbing and running and jumping and sliding. Kids imagining. Kids getting filthy. Kids deep in their play.
When the light started to wane on this, the first Wacky Wednesday since the end of daylight saving time, parents began gathering their tired, dirty brood to head back down the trail for dinner. It was almost like our childhood days in those backyard woods. Almost.