An Introduction to the Raymond B. Martens Nature Playscape

By Elise Probasco, Programming and Outreach Director

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Nature Playscapes are outdoor spaces that are carefully created to facilitate nature play in a way that encourages risk-taking, exploration, and hands-on learning. Unlike playgrounds, Nature Playscapes use natural materials such as wood, sand, stone, and grass to immerse young children in nature. The goal of Nature Playscapes is to inspire children to become life-long nature enthusiasts with an appreciation for conservation. The Raymond B. Martens Nature Playscape was designed to provide children with a challenging and stimulating environment away from technology.

The space includes:

  • Replica covered bridge and canal boat with local canal stones

  • Tunnel and slide hills

  • Raised bed vegetable gardens with silo rainwater cistern and irrigation system

  • Outdoor classroom/picnic shelter

  • 1/10th mile trike track and 11 trikes

  • Dry Creek

  • Sand/mud kitchen play

  • Outdoor art frames

  • Natural loose parts and log climbing structures

  • 17 shade trees and native plants to fill the space

  • Just yards away from the city's bike path and wetland

The largest single donation for the construction of the playscape came from the Nannie B. Martens Trust Fund. This fund was established as a memorial gift in the name of Nannie B. Martens and McClellan Martens in memory of their son, Raymond Brandt Martens. Raymond B. Martens was said to be a happy child and a lover of nature and reading. He passed away from a high fever caused by influenza at the young age of 15 in 1913. The Martens were a prominent family in Lancaster, and through the generosity of their fund, they have continued to serve the community for over a century after Raymond’s passing. The Raymond B. Martens Nature Playscape was constructed in his memory and in the hopes that his love of nature can be shared with many children for years to come.

Why A Nature Playscape?

By Elise Probasco, Programming and Outreach Director

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The concept of nature playscapes is a trend that is starting to catch on all around the world, but what exactly is it and how does it benefit children?

Nature playscapes are outdoor spaces that are designed to facilitate hands-on, risk-taking exploration of nature. These types of playscapes are set apart from traditional plastic and metal playgrounds as they are made of all natural materials such as wood, earth, and stone. They provide children with an opportunity to manipulate, touch, and investigate the natural world around them; encouraging them to build a life-long appreciation of nature.

If asked to think back on your favorite memories of play as a child, most would recall a time spent outdoors and away from the careful watch of adults. Nature playscapes provide that experience - one that many children are deprived of today. Hills, loose parts, trees, and creek beds offer an element of risk that children miss out on when they sit behind the screens of phones, tablets, and TVs. Playscapes also encourage family-bonding experiences as parents, guardians, and children can explore the natural world together. By creating a space that is enclosed, free of hazards, and well-maintained, parents can take a step back while their children engage in unstructured play. In an early childhood setting, like AHA!, parents can allow their children to engage in child-directed play while staying close by for times when they are needed. This type of play can affect children’s confidence, physical abilities, imagination, problem-solving skills, and communication skills.

The goal of nature playscapes is to foster a love and appreciation for nature that lasts well into adulthood. As many would agree, when you love something, learning about it never feels like learning - it just feels like having fun! When children have fun in nature, they are most likely learning about it too. When they drop a rock into a creek they’re learning about physics. When they find a bug under a log, they’re learning about life science. The opportunities for learning in nature are endless! When children are educated about the world around them, they can become better conservationists and stewards of the earth.

For more information on the benefits of nature play and nature playscapes in an early childhood environment, check out these resources:

The Importance of Risk in Early Childhood Play

The Role of Nature Play in Conservation

How Nature Playgrounds Benefit Children

The Benefits of Free Play

Natural Playscapes: Creating Outdoor Play Environments for the Soul by Rusty Keeler