The Dingle Park's Natural Playground

Guys, the VIEW of this park has always been worth the visit alone, amiright? I mean, it's on the Halifax Harbour with boats bobbing in the water, seagulls flying in the air above, and a tower that is clearly occupied by Rapunzel watching over us. But NOW there is a brand spanking new playground there and of course we had to be one of the first to check this baby out. On top of that, it's not just "any old" playground, it's a natural playground!!

I am a big fan of natural playgrounds. I like them because they incorporate the woodsy beauty of the surrounding park into the playground, and they encourage kids to get out of their comfort zone and try something a little unusual or unexpected as the "equipment" is not the standard playground fare.

A little over a year ago we visited the natural playground in the Annapolis Valley and it was a hit with our nature loving kiddos so we had high expectations for this one designed by Earthscape in the heart of our city.

Stump steps to encourage climbing and balance.

Stump steps to encourage climbing and balance.

As we approached the playground both kids literally stopped in their tracks and stared. They'd never seen something quite like this so they took a moment to take it all in - then they were off and running...and climbing and sliding and swinging!

Giant tree as a balance beam

Giant tree as a balance beam

Structures like this one (below) are to me the heart of a natural playground. It's not "obvious" what the intended purpose of it is, so kids need to make that decision themselves, and they can come up with a million different ways to use it, and change that purpose every time they visit. It's a ship! It's a castle! It's a shelter from the set of Survivor!

Miss M (5 years old) said she wanted to sit on one of the higher logs so I encouraged her to plan out a route. She decided on a way and began by crawling across to the net, then hoisted herself up to the first level. She was a little nervous but, with me there nearby for moral and, if needed, physical support, she shimmied her way down the log to crawl onto the one she wanted to sit on.

I loved how I could almost see the wheels turning in her brain as she sorted out how she was going to manoeuvre herself through the play structure to reach her goal and the confidence she gained when she made it.

(If there was audio) "Feet first! FEET FIRST" AND then Mr M grins at me with a mouthful of mulch

(If there was audio) "Feet first! FEET FIRST" AND then Mr M grins at me with a mouthful of mulch

These little slides were a big hit with Mr M (3 years old). He ran up those wooden steps and slid down the slides probably a dozen times. The ground covering is wooden chips, but soft ones, more like mulch. Makes for an easier landing for the face plants that my little guy tends to do when he gets going.

The structure above was in the middle of what we'll be calling the Mud Pit. There is dirt all around it and a water feature where children can pump water out and use it to make mud pies, or just stomp in it (because "Everybody loves muddy puddles," according to Peppa Pig). Next time we'll need to remember to bring some rubber boots, buckets and shovels for some fun digging action.

A section with four musical instruments that made a soft chiming noise provided the soundtrack to the playground fun.

A section with four musical instruments that made a soft chiming noise provided the soundtrack to the playground fun.

The "Tower" is one of the most impressive features of the park and was the first and last stop on our visit. It's a replica of the real Dingle Tower (ahem, I mean Rapunzel's Tower) nearby in the park. Heavy rope netting makes up the outside and climbing up it is the only way to get to the big slide - no ladder or staircase short cuts here, kids.

Miss M and Mr M worked their little butts off to try to get up there but, alas, they didn't quite have the strength and size to make it all the way during this visit.

Miss M plotting out "one more time" to conquer the tower

Miss M plotting out "one more time" to conquer the tower

I was impressed at my kids' tenacity in trying to get up this tower though, especially Miss M who can be overly cautious. Both children came back to it multiple times, tried from different starting points, asked for boosts to get going, etc. I'm okay with them not being able to make it up there yet. I love a playground that has a reason for them to keep trying harder to get to a goal and every time we come back here (which will be a lot) I know they'll get a little closer to getting up there. 

And once they can finally make it up, think of the exhilaration and sense of accomplishment they'll feel! And that's what a natural playground like this is all about, helping kids connect with the great outdoors, looking at things in unique ways, and challenging them to keep pushing themselves and their limits.