My family holds many annual passes. The zoo and Children's Museum, of course, but our favorite one, and the one we go to with the most excitement, is called Tree Adventure. It is a child's nature sensory overload adjoined to the Arbor Day Farm, in Nebraska City, Nebraska, which is the home of Arbor Day, a national holiday in the U.S.
We found this gem, Tree Adventure, through accident. I love going to local small town festivals, and the Applejack Festival is a yearly must in our household. Crafts, street vendors, and apple flavored everything from pie, slushies, and of course, their famous carmel apples are just a taste of what is to find during this fall festival.
While my family was there we saw a large building with lots of children running around behind it. We paid the admission and we were instant fans. We ran back to change our admission into an annual pass, and go every month, even though it is an hour drive and we have two small children. What makes this place so special? The open air Nature Explore Classroom.
The classroom boats many unique activities, from a "Messy Materials" area that holds every type of fallen logs, sticks, rocks, and leaves one could find so that the participants can build a fort--anything goes! There are three large Wooden Xylophones (my son's personal favorites), a "Music & Movement" area that encourages free play and dance, three areas of "Nature Toys" that include many different types of wooden blocks, natural "tree" blocks, wooden bricks, pine cones, seed pods, and more. The biggest draw, however, is the beautifully constructed Tree House, complete with colorful silks to use in whatever way one can think of. To top it all off, there is an entire Nature Classroom of small proportions, for every baby and toddler that visits, just behind the admission building. The smallest of explorers are important and celebrated here, too!
My children are only 2 1/2 and 1, and they love this place. My little lady squeals with delight every time she sees the Tree House from the trail, and I can easily plop her down with some natural found objects that she will chew, rub her fingers over, and look up at me and smile. My oldest will run off to the messy area and figure out what he can over-turn to find the most bugs.
This place is not only beautiful and full of nature in and around it (there is a trail that you have to take in order to get to the Nature Classroom, that is full of interactive stations for children including smelling different trees, spotting different animal tracks, and listening to different bird calls), but I can leave the two there for hours while I read, and they will be peaceful, and tired on the drive home.
For those interested in perhaps visiting the farm, there is so much to do. You can take a ride to see all the orchards and the first trees that were planted, visit the greenhouse where all the seedlings are placed before being shipped across the nation for planting, or walk the many nature trails, and end up at the Nature Classroom.
If you live far away but would like to incorporate some of these ideas into your own home or community, please check out this valuable website that provides plenty of visual inspiration, the reasons behind why nature is so important to children, and of course, if you're interested in purchasing something you saw and liked (you can order a free catalog HERE.)"Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses." Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.-Sarah Mast
Sarah has been a long time reader and supporter of The Magnifying Glass. You can find our more about Sarah and her family by visiting her blog.