Text by Zach Pine | Photos by Maria Durana
“Grownups always told us, ‘Don’t touch,’ and ‘Don’t climb on that.’ But this is totally different!” -Stonestown Family YMCA counselor
Two “play days” in early July brought over 120 Stonestown Family YMCA campers and preschoolers to the newly-opened Rolph Nicol Nature Exploration Area (NAE). The 3 – 7 year olds used natural loose parts—sticks, leaves, bark, and tree chunks to create bridges, ships, an ant home, a Chinese drum, and much more. Others scrambled across long horizontal tree trunks laid on the ground, jumped from stump to stump, or ran on the twisting wood-chip path that meanders under the trees.
“I liked the track. I followed the path and it was looking a little bit like a racing track.”
“I liked the low stumps and how I can walk and jump on them.”
“I had so much fun and also built a house.”
“I liked building with the sticks and playing with the acorns.”
-YMCA St. Francis Preschool students
Aligning with the vision statement of SFRPD to “connect us to play, nature, and each other,” the park welcomes visitors to have FUN, express themselves, and collaborate and learn through play.
“This was a labor of love,” park section supervisor Robert Muhammad remarked. “We transform spaces all the time, but it’s not every day we get the opportunity to create. Everyone chipped in and was excited. I don’t believe that kids have the opportunity to connect with nature as much as they should. Local neighborhood spaces like this are important for all of our mental health. They help us unplug from all of the noise we create for ourselves, balance our mental psyche from the stresses of everyday life, and reflect on the good things in life.”
The Nature Exploration Area at Rolph-Nicol Park is poised to become a model for nature play citywide. Its play days exemplified the benefits of nature play: being active; strengthening social skills, creativity, and problem-solving; practicing beneficial risk-taking and motor skills; and connecting with nature.