Bridget Mahaffey, UCalgary Outdoor Centre
Natural Adventure Park returns to campus after successful pilot
Exploration, creativity and unstructured free play are the focus of a popular program that will be returning to the UCalgary Outdoor Centre summer camps schedule in 2019, after being successfully piloted last year.
The Natural Adventure Park will once again take over the beach volleyball courts on main campus, transforming into a pop-up play area with some unexpected toys. Summer campers will get to stretch their imaginations with a stash of logs, branches, rope, sandcastle building materials, and kitchen supplies such as muffin tins and cookies sheets — transforming the items into whatever they see fit.
“The whole goal of the park is to encourage creative play and interactions with each other and the natural world in a creative way,” says Bridget Mahaffey, youth program co-ordinator with the UCalgary Outdoor Centre. “The unstructured play, which is totally led by them, is a contrast to their day-to-day lives, which are often really structured.”
After a short orientation on how to safely use the park, campers are given free reign. Unlike typical parks, nothing is stationary. It’s designed to be dynamic and flexible, allowing children to build, assemble and change the environment however they please.
A log cabin, a ship made of branches, and tools made of twigs and string were just a few of the creative inventions constructed over the course of last summer. Mahaffey says it was interesting to see how the children co-operated to build creative structures or execute a complicated plan.
“There was a lot of brainstorming, teamwork and communication going on,” she says. “There was also a lot of sharing because the park had a limited number of resources, so they had to plan and troubleshoot as they worked together to build things.”
The park brings elements of Alberta’s impressive outdoor landscape to the city, allowing children to interact with nature in a way that isn’t normally allowed.
“We are often told to leave nature alone and we practise leave-no-trace principles when we go into the wild, so this is a way to let the kids interact with nature in a safe and sustainable way,” says Mahaffey.
Camp participants from Grades 1 to 8 each spent a half-day in the park and each age group engaged with it in different ways. Many of them noted it as being one of their favourite activities.
“When kids have control over the activity and it is all coming from their own creativity, it tends to fit the capabilities of their age group,” says Mahaffey. “We are really happy with how the park turned out last year and we are excited to have it back this summer.”
Organizers plan to expand the park this year, by adding a craft section for more quiet creative play, and an even larger variety of building materials.