Hands-on play at Oliver Nature Park encourages creativity in preschoolers and parents

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Despite the great benefits of educational apps and programming, electronic devices are often “empty calories” to a growing preschooler’s brain; they occupy space but don’t add the same deep value found in hands-on creative play. And yet, our tech-savvy toddlers have grown up with screens and often need a little extra guidance learning how to play with no cords attached.

Mansfield Nature Education programmers noticed this growing need and are launching a new program this spring designed specifically to fill those gaps.

Oliver Nature Park is the perfect setting for outdoor play.

Oliver Nature Park is the perfect setting for outdoor play.

Nature Play, which kicks off on Friday, April 13, invites parents and preschoolers to come to the park for a few hours of device-free fun in the great outdoors. Staff is supplying the materials, which includes everything from rocks and sticks to bamboo and slices of trees. They’ll also be on hand to guide the playtime as needed, offering suggestions or getting games started. However the real goal is to simply set the stage and let the little ones take over.

“Preschoolers generally have no shortage of creativity,” said Tiffany Gorrell, nature education specialist for Mansfield Parks & Recreation. “We’re hoping to create a space where they feel encouraged to really expand those ideas, no matter how silly, and engage their parents and friends to join in.”

Yes, parents are encouraged to play along, whether that means climbing into the bamboo rod teepee or playing air guitar in the log-and-stick rock band. “When parents join in and show they can be silly too, it helps strengthen the bond with their children and also helps the kids feel more confident in stepping outside the usual box to really expand their brains,” Gorrell said.

Nature Play is scheduled multiple times throughout the spring and summer, all of which are completely free for parents and kids to attend. All classes also occur at Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park, which just adds to the fun, Gorrell said.

“The park is the perfect place to expand your imagination and get your creative juices flowing, no matter what your age,” said Gorrell. The colors, the creatures, even the fresh air and sunshine itself. Nature is always growing and changing and surprising us with exciting new ideas, and we’re hoping this program will encourage our littlest visitors to do the same.”

Nature Play

Elmer W. Oliver Nature Park, 1650 Matlock Road
Monday, April 13, 2‐3 PM
Monday, April 23, 1‐2 PM
Monday, May 7, 1‐2 PM
Monday, May 21, 2‐3 PM
Tuesday, May 29, 11:30AM ‐12:30 PM

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