Free Play

By Kate Seitz, Belwin Conservancy Communications Partner

Since the 2005 publication of Richard Louv’s groundbreaking book, “Last Child in the Woods”, the term “nature-deficit disorder” has become part of the lexicon, not just for parents and educators, but for a public concerned with who is going to care for natural spaces in the future.

Over the past 15 years, awareness and action around getting kids in nature has gotten a lot of support: medical institutions are recommending ever-lower amounts of screen time for kids, nature-based preschool programs are gaining popularity, and across the U.S. and in the U.K., laws have been implemented to ensure that recess takes place during the school day.

According to the Child Mind Institute, numerous studies show that kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. New studies are showing the link the between children who spend time outdoors and their conservation ethic as adults.

But what happens during the summer, when kids are left to their own devices? A report by Dr. Aric Sigman for the Association of Play Industries “shows a strong link between recreational screen time and children’s inactivity, with children choosing to spend hours indoors and on screens instead of playing outside.” In less than 10 years, the report states, there has been a 50-percent increase in kids’ discretionary screen time.

The Belwin Connection

Summer hasn’t traditionally been a time when many school-age children engage with Belwin Conservancy. While Belwin has a nearly 50-year partnership with Saint Paul Public Schools, it’s largely played out during the school year, when approximately 9,000 students spend a day at Belwin as part of a program managed by Belwin Outdoor Science (BOS) and its team of licensed teachers. (In the summer, BOS runs a smaller program that hosts approximately 1,000 students.)

Many Belwin supporters know that Stagecoach Prairie and the trails at Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields (LWBAF) are free and open every day, sunrise to sunset. Those lands continue to be popular for birders and nature lovers, and anyone looking for a convenient hiking destination.

Other visitors come just to see a herd of 35 male juvenile bison from NorthStar Bison as they graze 150 acres of Belwin prairieland. The bison observation platform is also free and open daily.

However, we are always looking for new ways to engage members and the public with our land in order to fulfill our mission: Inspiring our connection to the natural world. That’s why, this summer, we’re excited to offer more opportunities for everyone to enjoy our nearly 1,400 acres of land.

In addition to the more than 7 miles of trails open at Stagecoach Prairie and LWBAF, the Education Center and its woodland, prairie and wetland trails will be open every Saturday this summer, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m..

Two days of special programming have been planned for families and children. On Saturday, June 15, and Saturday, July 20, naturalists, scientists, educators and others will lead kid-friendly excursions to help connect children and their grownups with the natural world.

On June 15, as part of Wonderful Water Investigations Month, naturalists Jim Rue and Natalie Spencer will lead programs starting at 10:00 a.m.

Jim will demonstrate how to use radio telemetry to discover turtle species found at Belwin Conservancy. He’ll also discuss restoration practices and the future of these reptiles.

Natalie will lead a program for elementary-aged children and their families to explore life under the pond water. Attendees can catch a dragonfly nymph and learn about the journey it goes through before taking flight.

Breaking Down Barriers

Because getting outside is so important, we’ve made it as easy as possible to immerse yourself in nature. By car, it takes 15 minutes or less to get to Belwin from St. Paul, Woodbury, Hudson and Stillwater. Signs direct visitors where to park and walk, and on Saturdays at the Education Center, volunteers are on-hand to answer questions and point you in the right direction for your adventure.

Kids (and your grown-ups), get ready to play at Belwin this summer!


Daily: Stagecoach Prairie, Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Field Trails, Bison Observation Platform

Saturdays through Labor Day Weekend: Education Center Building and Trails

View the Events Calendar for the complete list of upcoming programs at Belwin.

Photos courtesy of Josh Leonard.