I hurt myself last week, and wasn’t quite feeling up to a hike. But I would never deprive my children of some quality outdoor exploration! So we headed to Towne Park, a St. Charles County Park in the Wentzville area.
The park is listed as in “Foristell,” so it took me a while to actually visit because in my mind, it was really far away. It really isn’t far, and it doesn’t *feel* like Foristell- it’s right off 61, about six miles north of the 40/70 intersection. My cousin recommended it to me, knowing that we would love it, and she was right! It features a playground, pavillions, several paved and natural surface trails, and a fishing pond, but its most attractive amenity in my opinion is the Nature Explore Classroom!
This is not just a few benches in the woods, which is what I always think of when I imagine an outdoor classroom. This is a Nature Explore certified classroom. Nature Explore is a national nonprofit program of Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, which works collaboratively with a network of organizations throughout the nation. Their goal is to help nature become an integral, joyful part of children’s daily learning. Nature Explore provides research-based workshops, design consultations and resources created to support programs as they continue to connect children and families to the wonders of nature. What I love about this is that the goals of this program completely align with my family values, and the research and intention behind the design and programming totally align with the educator in me. There are not many in Missouri, and only a few in public spaces. Most are in private schools. We are lucky to have two nearby- MoBot Gardens @ Shaw Nature Reserve and Towne Park! I love having them in the public space, accessible to everybody so that all children can benefit from it.
When we first entered the area, the kids were thrilled! We hit the music section first, where there were many instruments to try out, small and large, made of natural materials.
Then my kids spent a lot of time in the construction area. The entire classroom area has gravel trails around and through it, with plentiful seating in the form of wood benches. We hung back and let the kids figure it out in the construction area. It was slightly Lord of the Flies-esque, but it was so exciting and rewarding to watch them negotiate, compromise, and help each other as they worked on building a little city, shelter, and bridge. There are logs and sticks for them to build with, as well as stools and tunnels to climb and play in.
There was a water feature area. Powered by a bike and series of chains/gears, you pump water into a gutter that flows down onto some rocks. The kids really were enthused about this, though it was tougher for the youngest ones, and for Nick who is always challenged by bikes. He was very motivated though, and I was proud watching him try and try again to pump the water! Eventually, Kareem got on the bike and Nicky got soaked, but we had a great time.
There were climbing structures, a huge tire swing, a balance area, and a sand area among other things. This kept them engaged for a very long time. We then crossed the pond via pier and went to the more traditional playground, which had something for everybody as well.
We spent a few hours here. I’ll definitely want to bring a picnic and make a day of it next time- so fun!