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Jan 07

Connecting Kids and Nature

Posted on January 7, 2021 at 7:48 AM by Jessica Abrahams

Author: Jessica Abrahams, Administrative Technician

A couple of years ago I was in a conference session and the instructor asked us to close our eyes and think of a memory from our childhood.  I closed my eyes and immediately thought about playing outside.  I’m sure most of you reading this article would do the same if you were asked to recall a memory from your childhood; you’d close your eyes and picture yourself doing something outdoors.  The instructor then said that when today’s kids are adults and asked to do the same, their childhood memory will be recalled from indoors.  That exercise has stuck with me for a number of reasons.  Children are missing out on many benefits of outdoor, unstructured play in nature.  Below are just some of the benefits you and I experienced from our childhoods from playing outdoors.

  • Physical boundaries from climbing, jumping around in and exploring nature.
  • Engineering and mathematical skills from building forts and other structures from natural elements.
  • Nurturing skills if you were a child whose parents were brave enough to let you keep and care for insects, bugs, frogs, and other creatures you found.
  • Learning to take care of and become stewards of the earth by connecting with nature and the outdoor environment.
  • Creativity from using natural elements to create items for play.
  • And more!

After attending the conference session and realizing how much our kids are missing out on and the long-term effects of spending less time outdoors, it was a goal of mine to find somewhere within our Owatonna parks where kids can play in nature; a space designed using natural elements for children to learn, explore and connect with the natural world.

I contacted a local artist and a pre-school teacher and together with them, and our Park Maintenance Manager we’ve begun developing a small nature play area in Mineral Springs Park.  You’ll find the area off of the back parking lot, in the northeast corner of the park.  Eventually, the area will be marked with a sign “Spring into the Wild” but for now you’ll find an upside-down tree, which is a piece of nature’s artwork, and stumps at various heights.  More will be added to the area as time and resources allow our park crew. Future plans include a tree trunk balance beam, a ninja-type course where kids will try to get from one end of the area to the other without touching the ground, mounds with a bridge and large boulders.  It’ll also include tables and chairs made out of trees which kids can use for make-believe play and a water feature (think nature’s splash pad).

I encourage you to check out the nature play area.  Either bundle up the kids and visit this winter so they can explore the couple features there or check it out this spring, when the weather warms up.  Research indicates that, when children play and learn in nature, they do so with more vigor, engagement, imagination, and cooperation than in artificial environments, and that symptoms of attention deficit and depression are reduced.  Also, the development of the area is inexpensive and includes recycling of our earth’s creations! 

Outdoor play doesn’t have to end or even decrease in the winter!  Check out the options below for getting outside and embracing our Minnesota winters.

Skating at Morehouse

Ice skating at the Warsinski ice rinks located at Morehouse Park are open. Please check our website for current guidelines regarding use of the Morehouse Chalet.

Chalet Hours:

  • Monday thru Friday: 3:00 pm to 9:30 pm
  • Saturdays, Holidays, School Vacation Days: 11:00 am to 9:30 pm (January 1, 8, 18 and 19)
  • Sunday: 12:00 pm to 9:30 pm

Winter Weekend Out – January 29-31 with some activities starting sooner!

We’ve got a variety of winter-themed activities planned for you to have fun and stay active!  Take a look at the activities, most are planned for the weekend of January 29-31, but some you can start earlier!  You can find out more information on these activities by visiting our website and clicking on the Special Events page.

  • Snowman Building Contest – During the month of January.  During the month of January submit a photo of your best snowman creation.  Submission deadline is Sunday, January 31, 2021.  Free to enter!  Prizes will be awarded to the Best in Snow (chosen by judges) and People’s Choice (Facebook vote). Bring your snowman to life using accessories, colors, themes, etc.  Be creative and imaginative! All entries must include a sign in the photo with the snowman that says, “Owatonna Snowman Building Contest 2021”. Submit your entry by email to: or post it on our Facebook page.
  • Snowman Clue – Who Melted Frosty?  January 15 – 31.  This cold weather has gotten to the one of the Parks and Recreation Department staff!  Whoever it was punished poor Frosty the Snowman!  The Owatonna Police Department found Frosty in a puddle, melted.  Frosty’s sidekicks will not let this crime go unpunished!  Are you a good enough detective to figure out which Parks and Recreation employee finally snapped? Who did it? Where they did it? What weapon they used? Frosty’s sidekicks, miniature snowman, hold the clues to this horrendous crime! Find Frosty’s sidekicks at the following parks to help solve the crime: Mineral Springs, Morehouse, and Fairgrounds Park. Visit these parks between January 15—31, find Frosty’s sidekicks holding the clues. Use the Snowman Clue Guide (coming soon!) to help you crack the crime.  Once you have figured out this mystery, submit your guess on the Park & Rec website, or message your guess to us on our Facebook page. 
  • Cardboard Sled Race Rules – January 30 at West Hills Sledding Hill.  Design and build a person powered, corrugated cardboard sled capable of withstanding the descent down the West Hills sledding hill. How creative can you be using only corrugated cardboard as a building material?  Come join the fun!  Two age classes and multiple time slots, pre-registration required. Awards for Top o’ the Hill – Most attractive or spectacular looking and Fastest Sled. View the Cardboard Sled Race Rules and find more information on the Park & Rec website.
  • Family Ice Fishing – January 31 at Lake Kohlmier.  Enjoy a Minnesota winter past-time, ice fishing!  We’ll have holes drilled for you and provide bait and equipment (limited equipment available).  Everyone who registers will receive one ticket and each fish caught earns another ticket for a drawing for various prizes!  A prize for largest fish caught will also be awarded. Multiple time slots, pre-registration required, $5 per area which includes two pre-drilled holes. Find more information and registration on the Park & Rec website.

Snow Sculpture Exhibition

Join in this free, family-friendly community event!  No experience needed and snow blocks will be provided for you!  A great team-building event for businesses, family event for families or individual event to show off your sculpting skills. Carving will take place January 22—27. Spectators are welcome to watch teams carve their sculptures! Carvings will be done by January 28. Sign your team up and view the rules on the Park & Rec website.