Now that the weather is warm and the days are longer, there's no better time to get outside with your kids.
"When you connect a child to nature, you're enhancing their brain development, their health and fitness," says Patricia Manzi, director of LINCK (Long Island Collaborative for Kids), a project of The Early Years Institute in Plainview.
One of LINCK's initiatives is creating outdoor classrooms, or all-nature play spaces in parks, preserves, schools, libraries and farms throughout Long Island. These natural learning environments feature simple outdoor play such as digging in dirt or sand, building using wooden blocks, gardening, art and music using natural materials and water activities.
There are five on Long Island that are open to the public (most of them are free), 13 that are featured in schools and early childhood programs and more than 10 that are in the process of being built. Check them out today.
Nature Explorium at the Middle Country Library
The Nature Explorium at the Middle Country Library (101 Eastwood Blvd., Centereach) is a hands-on outdoor learning environment geared toward kids and families. It features areas for digging and playing with dirt, climbing and crawling with wooden logs, building with wooden blocks, art and music using natural materials, planting and a water section.
Suffolk County Farm and Education Center
The explore classroom at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center (350 Yaphank Ave., Yaphank) features a stage with barrel drums, "wrench-o-phone," and gourd maracas, an interactive nature art area, an herb garden, plus a slide and climbing hill. The herb garden stands adjacent to the 138-year-old hay barn and a 25-year-old weeping mulberry tree makes the perfect spot for reading or relaxing.
Nature Exploration and Phil Dejana Learning Center
The Nature Exploration outdoor classroom and Phil Dejana Learning Center at the Sands Point Preserve (127 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point) features an art area, an all-natural xylophone for music, a climbing area with wooden platforms, garden beds and more. Other activities include fitness/nature trails, guided tours, pond habitat preservation projects and marine biology exploration along the shoreline.
Bailey Arboretum Children's Habitat
Kids can explore nature while building, digging, climbing, collecting, playing music and more at Bailey Arboretum Children's Habitat (194 Bayville Rd. and Feeks Lane, Lattingtown). You can also picnic and enjoy guided woodland walks.
Our Backyard at the Long Island Children's Museum
The Our Backyard outdoor classroom at the Long Island Children's Museum (11 Davis Ave., Garden City) features a garden exhibit geared for kids to explore nature. They can discover how to tell time by the sun, measure rainfall, learn about herbs and make bird feeders or sun catchers. A water play area, a giant tire and sand area is also included.