The Gaffield Children’s Garden at Matthaei Botanical Gardens is hosting weekly hands-on Nature Play Pop-ups for summer 2023.  Nature Play Pop-ups will occur on Tuesday evenings, 5:30-7:00 pm, and Thursday mornings, 10-11:30 am. In addition, we will host a more ephemeral schedule of Sunday afternoon Nature Play Pop-ups.

This lightly guided play takes place in the nature art area of the Gaffield Children’s Garden. Young children will have hands-on fun while taking a closer look at nature, and parents will leave with easy ideas to encourage creative nature play at home. No registration, free event. First to arrive, first to play. Kids can join in as spaces open during the pop-ups. Suggested ages 3-7.  Please note, all materials stay at Gaffield Children’s Garden unless otherwise specified.

TUESDAYS  5:30-7pm

May 30: Bubbles! Bubbles!

Marvelous, magical bubbles encourage even the youngest among us to consider the wonder of physics and chemistry. Let’s make giant bubbles and tiny bubbles and all the bubbles in-between!

June 6: Build a Little Bird’s Nest play

Let’s imagine we’re birds, and forage from our natural loose parts collection, maybe build a nest…

June 13: Stacking Stones play 

Whether you call them stones or rocks, we have a varied collection and invite you to play with us to build, design, and wonder.

June 20: Nature Potions play 

Young children the world over enjoy mixing and mixing and mixing. An important schema of child development, join us as we transform petals, pebbles, water, and other magical finds from the natural world.

June 27:Ball Run Gravity Play 

Play and investigate spheres & near -spheres as we build the ball-runs-of-our-dreams sourced from our loose parts collections.

THURSDAYS 10-11:30am

June 1: Soil Insect Exploration play

There is a lot of life teeming under the soil surface. Stop in to dig and take a close look at the wonderful creatures we find.

June 8: Leaf Quest play

We wonder why there are so many different kinds of leaves…take a close look at some leaves and start a collection or make some leaf art.

June 15: Bird Egg Artistry

Why does a Robin’s egg look so different from a warbler’s egg, or a goose egg? We wonder, too! We’ll bring out art supplies to flex our imaginations as we design some bird eggs of our own.

June 22: Wild Card
You never know what special natural loose parts we’ll bring out, but we’ll definitely bring them out and invite you to play with us!
June 29: Digging for Treasures play

Who doesn’t love digging? Who doesn’t love treasures? Come play with us, digging, finding, and burying treasures.

SUNDAYS 3-4:30pm

June 18: Fairy House play  

We’ll bring out our specially curated supply of fairy house building materials. While building, let’s consider the tiny creatures who might find it a suitable home.

June 25: Bubbles! Bubbles!

Marvelous, magical bubbles encourage even the youngest among us to consider the wonder of physics and chemistry. Let’s make giant and tiny bubbles and all the bubbles in between!

Nature Play Pop Up fairy house
photo of children creating potions from a variety of nature ingredients

The Importance of Play

Play is a means of deep learning for young children. In Gaffield Children’s Garden, we provide rich, open-ended Nature Play experiences. We are committed to it, knowing that these experiences will become an essential part of the child, will be transformed into intellectual pursuits, imaginative pursuits, support physical and emotional health, and promote positive regard for the Earth now and into adulthood. We encourage families to participate and replicate what we do here, in their own houses, apartments, schools and parks. Nature play incorporates the local natural environment while offering children tools other than the standard metal and plastic structures found in most playgrounds. 

Playing is a key contributor to early childhood learning, and playing outdoors helps children develop a bond, love, and respect for nature. Through engaged learning and play in nature, children acquire concepts and skills essential to both personal and academic success.

Nature Play Pop-Ups (NPPUs)  are MBGNA’s lightly guided Nature Play opportunities that are easy to replicate at home. Our emphasis on easy-to-replicate play is by design: we know how valuable outdoor play is for young children and hope to encourage parents and caregivers to try these simple and inexpensive, but enriching experiences at home, too.