While our summer camps have long waiting lists, and every week 20 or more children were exploring, discovering, getting dirty, wet and thoroughly exhausted in our parks, very few people came out for our first ever play days. That winter I went back to the drawing board and decided that for the idea to be a success in Zionsville, I needed to get others involved. Not only to increase our marketing to families, but to offer more programs, something not easy to do with an extremely small staff. In 2017, I began reaching out to organizations that 1. I had worked with in the past on programs and projects. 2. Already did programming in nature, art or recreation. I provided them some information on the benefits of nature play, on the Indiana Children and Nature Network and what Nature Play Days were. Then my request was simple. If you are planning on doing programs over the summer, can you please do one during Nature Play Days week? Can you offer the program free of charge? And can the program occur outside, and in one of our parks if possible?
Most of the organizations said “yes”! SullivanMunce, Maplelawn Farmstead, the Zionsville Police Department, and our Street and Stormwater Department. The Hussey Mayfield Public Library liked the idea so much that their children’s department said “YES” twice. And with those organizations on board, Zionsville Nature Play Days were started. The Zion Nature Center filled in the gaps so that at least 1 program was offered each day of Play Days. 13 events in total that included a Creekstomp in Eagle Creek, an opportunity to design your own solar oven, and a teddy bear picnic in the park. Our Mayor caught wind of the collaboration and loved the idea so much he proclaimed June 10 – 18, 2017 as Zionsville Nature Play Days. We had over 380 participants the first year of Zionsville Nature Play Days.
So what does that mean for 2018? My hope is that all of our collaborators return, and bring a couple of their friends. My goal is to offer 2 events each day of Nature Play Days and to develop a way to track what programs participants are going to. But most importantly, that our families and community celebrate time outside and discover their backyard.
Mindy is the park naturalist and nature center manager for Zion Nature Center. Mindy also serves on the steering committe for ICAN.
Zion Nature Center
690 Beech Street
Zionsville, IN 46077