Welcome to Grasshopper Grove

at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum Outdoor Discovery Center


What is Nature Play?     

Open-ended and free-form exploration and recreation in a “wild” area – be that a vacant lot, a neighborhood park, or the woods at the edge of the backyard. For many of us, this type of play defined our childhoods and became the root of our conservation values as we grew.

Why does it matter?        

Unfortunately, kids today don’t have the kind of experiences in nature that were once common place. As a result, many suffer from a lack of connection to the environment, a syndrome known as “nature deficit disorder.”  Time spent in nature is essential for children’s physical and mental health and cognitive and social development. These are just a few of the well-documented reasons playing outside is good for kids:

· Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy kids

· Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing, and listening

· Nature play enhances social interactions, makes children more creative, and reduces stress


Children are born with an innate sense of wonder and adventure.

To nurture this they need to experience the joy of frequent, unstructured play in nature. In today’s busy, over scheduled lives, plugged-in society and fear of the unknown, children seem to have fewer opportunities to run through a stream, build shelters with sticks, hide in bushes or jump in a pile of leaves.

The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum is taking steps to ensure that the children in our area can discover find adventure and develop the wonderment of free nature play. Building upon the experiences from our nature based preschool, the Young Naturalist Program, the Museum is creating Grasshopper Grove, a safe, accessible nature play space where young children can run down hills, balance on logs and boulders, use their imaginations and develop their motor skills while playing in nature. We are proud to present this first project of its kind in the Hudson Valley.

Grasshopper Grove Nature Play Area   

Part trail, part nature play space, part “wild” area, Grasshopper Grove brings the wonders of the woods and fields up close. Grasshopper Grove provides a place where young children can connect with nature in a safe, unstructured manner.

It is a half-acre of natural elements to promote the value of nature play for children’s health and cognitive development and provide a fun, safe, “bridge” between natural areas and wild areas that will help both children and their parents feel increasingly comfortable in nature. It promotes the Museum’s mission to create caretakers of the natural world by acting upon expert studies, which indicate that a child’s early experiences in nature form the basis of lifelong environmental ethics.

Grasshopper Grove follows a design developed with museum staff, board, parents and preschool students by one of the world’s leaders in this field, Adam Bienenstock of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds. Beginning with a half acre of field surrounded by a rough stone wall and mature shag-bark hickory trees, the area was graded to incorporate a low hill surrounded by a path, a dry stream-bed and a higher hill where children have a view of the Museum’s fields and ponds. Taking inspiration from the wild areas on the Museum’s 177-acre Outdoor Discovery Center where its preschool children love to play, elements that have been added to Grasshopper Grove include a “fallen” oak tree for climbing, large boulders, and an area of “loose parts” for building such as pine cones, bark and sticks. There 's water flowing down a series of cedar troughs, an area of shrubs will grow into a maze of “secret hide-outs” and a dirt pile will provide open-ended creative play.

Executive Director, Jacqueline Grant, is quick to point out that while two initial grants enabled the project to get underway, generous donations of materials and labor, and a willingness by contractors to provide services at minimum rates made the scope of the project possible. The two grants came from the Hudson River Valley Greenway for design consultation, and from a foundation that wishes to remain anonymous. The Garden Club of Orange and Dutchess was instrumental in first helping to select appropriate trees and shrubs and then sponsoring their purchase and installation. They also planted 750 spring bulbs and will design and install a “sensory” garden. Donations also came from friends of the Museum both at the Museum’s annual fundraising event and through sponsoring individual elements such as an Adirondack-style lean-to.



Loose Parts



Green Hearts

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