Looking for a way to get your kids excited about the great outdoors? Northwest Ohio boasts a growing number of natural playgrounds where children can let their imaginations run wild as they climb, jump, splash and play in the dirt.
Nature playscapes utilize the landscape, incorporating elements such as water, plants, sand, trees, stumps and boulders. Features often include rope courses, bridges and treehouses, all made from natural materials rather than plastic or metal.
Not only do these playscapes invite children to challenge themselves physically as they explore and experiment, research shows that the benefits are more complex — children who play on natural playgrounds tend to be more active and use their imaginations more than those who play on traditional playgrounds.
Ready to dive into nature? Here’s our roundup of some of our region’s best playscapes.
6930 W. Sylvania Ave., Sylvania
Park access is free; Parking charge for non-residents of Sylvania School District ($3-$7)
This recently renovated playscape can be accessed by a charming wooden bridge or, if you’re feeling daring, by crossing the stream that borders it via log or stepping stones. Pack snacks because Olander Park’s playscape will keep your kids busy for the afternoon with its challenging wooden structures for climbing and balancing, outdoor instruments, children’s garden, sandbox and water table. Families can also enjoy a StoryWalk around the playscape that begins at the wooden bridge or a stroll around the spring-fed lake on the 1.1-mile paved trail.
Toledo Botanical Garden Metropark
5403 Elmer Dr.
If you or your children ever dreamed of having a treehouse, the Secret Forest is sure to delight. A lofted hideout accessible by a network of bridges made from nets, ropes and wood is the centerpiece of the Toledo Botanical Garden Metropark’s playscape, which captures the imagination of visitors of all ages. If you can get your kids to come back down to the ground, take a short walk to the nearby Doneghy Inclusive Garden for an accessible, sensory experience of sights, sounds, tastes and textures, and a “rain curtain” that will help everyone cool off.
W.W. Knight Nature Preserve
29530 White Rd., Perrysburg
This rustic playscape’s location in a heavily shaded grove of trees makes it a great choice for a hot day. It can be reached from the parking lot by taking a short walk on the path that loops the pond, staying to the right. The wooded lot immerses families into the peaceful quiet of the woods and provides kids with endless possibilities for building structures and obstacle courses from cut branches and tree stumps.
577 E. Front St., Perrysburg
Perhaps the oldest natural playground in the region, Virginia’s Children’s Garden is a magical corner of this historic property located on the Maumee River. Visitors may be greeted by the tinkle of chimes or the beat of drums from children playing outdoor instruments as they approach the area. Splash in the babbling brook, explore the tunnels, dance on the stage and climb structures made from wood and rope. Enjoy a birds-eye view of the property and play “I Spy” from the lookout platform, then come back down to stroll the lush community gardens. Be sure to stop in the recently reopened geodesic biodome to feed the fish, and look for the Flutter Hut near the entrance of the grounds for a close-up view of monarch butterflies and caterpillars.