The Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone at the Ithaca Children's Garden in New York was specifically designed with consideration of the playing and learning needs and desires of kids -- which means there's fewer lectures and quiet meandering around admiring flowers and lots more touching, exploring and digging into the environment. Created in the vein of the nature adventure playgrounds found in Europe, the Hands-on Anarchy Zone encourages kids to commune and interact with nature in whatever ways feels right to them... which typically means getting really, properly dirty.
The Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone is the first example in the U.S. of integrating “playwork” and nature-based learning into a children’s garden, which includes a variety of areas and experiences for kids to explore. They can build dwellings from cardboard, wood, and tires before wading into the shallow water for scooping, splashing, and investigating water wildlife. There’s plenty of opportunities for digging and practicing their balance on rickety, handmade crossings, and there’s a tool shed full of supplies for projects.
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The Zone, which was created in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, holds special events such as Mud Day, but its day-to-day goal is to get kids feeling comfortable, excited by, and interested in nature. The nature (no pun intended) of the area invites kids to explore on their own as well as to work together in building structures, navigating rocky terrain, or even creating imaginative group games.
Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and creator of her own nature-based developmental play program, outlined in her recent book Balanced and Barefoot that the best way to promote motor and sensory development in kids is through playing outside freely on a daily basis. Spending unrestricted time in spaces such as the Zone gives kids permission to get their hands dirty (really dirty) in the process of learning about nature and their place in it. The Zone allows kids to gravitate towards the parts that interest them (such as play-pretend or stomping around in the mud), and the no-stress, lots-of-mess, easygoing vibe encourages kids to experiment with activities that they might not get to experience at home or school.
All images via Ithaca Children’s Garden