Charlotte, NC, USA (June 11, 2012) — It’s only natural! Fort Wild, a natural outdoor habitat that encourages unstructured play and exploration of nature, takes root at Charlotte Nature Museum Saturday, June 16. Reminiscent of the type of experience many adults may remember from their own childhoods, Fort Wild focuses on outdoor, child-centered play that fosters healthy growth and development. The National Wildlife Federation, which provided the funding for the project, selected Charlotte Nature Museum as the site of its first backyard play habitat. The exhibit aims to encourage imaginative play in the environment while showing families how they can easily create outdoor play spaces from natural elements found in their own backyards.
“Charlotte Nature Museum digs deep when it comes to connecting children and families to the natural world,” said Lisa Hoffman, Director of Charlotte Nature Museum. “Fort Wild allows children to inquire, reflect, take risks, run and play all while being immersed in this beautiful natural setting. It affords kids the opportunity to be kids, while educating parents on best practices that can be implemented at home.”
Based on the idea that young children love to explore their world, Fort Wild’s natural setting incorporates elements and structures intended to strengthen the development of childhood skills such as creativity, autonomy, collaboration and role-playing. By inspiring young adventurers to directly interact with the outdoors and explore their senses, the space helps facilitate coordination and muscle development, stimulate limitless energy and let imaginations run wild. Fort Wild’s natural play area features settings designed with specific age groups in mind, including:
- See, Touch, Smell—an infant sensory garden that incorporates a variety of textures, smells and colors to facilitate rapidly developing senses.
- Hop, Jump, Dig—a toddler-targeted setting that offers growth and development structures such as logs for balancing, boulders for climbing and sand for digging.
- Dream, Wiggle, Run—designed with active preschoolers in mind, this area includes a Fairy Stump Village and teepee for constructing, building, and creating from gathered natural objects.
- Bird Blind—a special wooden bird blind offers young ornithologists the chance to learn the basic skills of bird-watching.
- Share, Act, Do—an open lawn for running, deconstructed wind chimes for musical instruments, a small stage for dramatic play and planting beds create endless play opportunities.
- The Spot—tweens and teens love private spaces. A simple arrangement of logs or boulders provides a place to meet with friends while still being visible to caregivers.
- Tend to Grow—a vegetable garden nurtured and cared for by children encourages healthy eating while teaching about plant lifecycles, pollination, beneficial insects and more.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, children 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media in a typical day. Kids nowadays spend less time playing outside than any other generation in modern history. With dwindling access to unregulated green spaces, the increasing lure of technology, overscheduled children and parental fears, finding opportunities for natural play experiences has become more challenging. In the last two decades, childhood has largely moved indoors partly due to this trend, even as research shows that children who spend regular time outdoors grow up with an affinity for nature and are healthier and happier. Charlotte Nature Museum’s Fort Wild is part of a growing national trend that aims to foster an appreciation of nature, develop environmental awareness and bring back a defining part of childhood.
“Our Museum has long been a safe zone where parents and children can freely explore together, so it was a logical step for us to build Fort Wild,” said Hoffman. “It is a space where families are encouraged to observe, touch, listen, smell and have personal experiences with nature’s loose parts. Parents have the option to be a facilitator and encourage their kids’ innate curiosity or take a step back and let their little one take the lead on a natural adventure.”
Charlotte Nature Museum’s outdoor project also serves as an example of how parents can transform their own backyard into natural play and learning areas. By creating easy-to-maintain spaces that encourage children to climb, dig, collect, hide and build, adults can help younger generations rediscover nature play and why it is important. Fort Wild was designed by the Natural Learning Initiative at North Carolina State.
Fort Wild will officially open to the public when Charlotte Nature Museum hosts its June Creature Feature event, Farm Day, on Saturday, June 16, from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. For more information call 704.372.6261 x300, email [email protected] or visit charlottenaturemuseum.org.
About National Wildlife Federation
Since its formation in 1936, National Wildlife Federation has worked with affiliates across the country to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for future generations. NWF seeks to engage and educate its 4 million members, partners and supporters with a focus on restoring habitat, confronting global warming and connecting people with nature. To learn more about NWF’s efforts to get kids outside, visit www.nwf.org/beoutthere.
About Charlotte Nature Museum
Charlotte Nature Museum offers visitors the chance to get close to wildlife and walk among free-flying butterflies in Butterfly Pavilion, observe live animals in Creature Cavern, buzz by Insect Alley or just hang out in Our Big Backyard. Visitors can learn together during workshops, summer camps and more. Daily programming including hands-on activities provide the opportunity for structured learning and informal play for kids of all ages. Charlotte Nature Museum is operated by Discovery Place, Inc.
Charlotte Nature Museum is located at 1658 Sterling Road, Charlotte. Hours are: Tuesday-Friday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Sunday noon – 5:00 p.m.; and closed on Monday. For more information, visit charlottenaturemuseum.org.
About Discovery Place
One of the top hands-on science museums in the nation, Discovery Place provides ever-changing, entertaining facilities that engage people in the active exploration of science and nature. The Museum brings relevant, contemporary science to life through groundbreaking exhibitions, interactive educational programming and hands-on activities. Nearly a half-million people from all over the United States engage with Discovery Place and its IMAX Dome Theatre each year.
Discovery Place is located in uptown Charlotte at 301 N. Tryon Street. Convenient parking is available in the Museum’s parking deck – the Carol Grotnes Belk Complex – at the corner of Sixth and Church Streets. For more information about Discovery Place, call (704)372-6261 , visit discoveryplace.org or connect with Discovery Place on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Discovery Place Inc. owns and operates Discovery Place, Charlotte Nature Museum and Discovery Place KIDS and is supported, in part, with funding from the Arts & Science Council.