Last year, sometime in the dead of winter, I attended a professional development conference. The focus of the conference was teaching children about science. It was a fabulous conference. One group from a panel discussion was from a place called the Heritage Museum and Gardens. A place I'd heard of but never really gave much thought. What these women had to say though made me sit up and take notice. They spoke about a new feature of the gardens they were working on called the "Hidden Hollow." It was going to be created in a natural kettle basin in the gardens and would consist of several different areas. Areas for building, gathering, climbing, digging, acting, singing, dancing, investigating. Most of the materials to be used would be natural materials, even found natural items like branches and fallen trees. I was more than intrigued. I was ablaze with curiosity. From the pictures they showed of similar spaces around the country, I decided I wanted to try and create something similar in our own backyard. But as it was mid-winter, I wasn't inclined to head out and tackle it right at that moment. So I mentally shelved it and given my abysmal memory, forgot all about it.
Last week a friend of mine sent me an email about a place her friend raved about that had just opened. Yep...you guessed it...Hidden Hollow. So a few days later I dragged my kids and we could have spent the weekend there we had so much fun. I am even more determined than ever to create something along the same lines, obviously on a much smaller scale, in our yard.
It makes sense that this is the perfect way for kids to explore the world around them. This is the kind of play that inspires the questions that lead to learning even more. I love that the materials are found from nature. Most kids are so disconnected with nature and this type of playspace helps to reconnect them to the world around them. It encourages problem solving and creative play. It kind of reminds me of how my siblings and I used to play as kids. We were sent out into the yard to play and there were no adults standing around directing our play. When we wanted to build a fort, we dragged materials we found in the yard, barn and house and got going. We climbed trees and rolled in the grass and created games with rules that changed when convenient. We made crowns out of dandelions and pots upon pots of weed/leaf/grass soup.
I realize that I can go to the Nature Explore website and buy all the materials I need to set up our own personal Hidden Hollow. I think it would be much more appropriate to pick up branches, pinecones and rocks in the woods near our home. We have some fallen trees in the woods that are just begging to become seats, tables, steps or whatever else my kids may come up with. I need to give my kids, and the children I care for, more opportunities to experience the world on their own terms. I can't wait to see what we come up with.