New Educational Playgrounds in Eden Prairie and Chanhassen

Two new playgrounds help children connect with plants to explore the outdoors.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's Green Play Yard connects children with the natural world.

Playground options abound in our cities, but two new options in Chanhassen and Eden Prairie provide opportunities for a different kind of play.  Green Play Yard The Green Play Yard at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum opened in June 2012. The 15,000-square-foot space by the Marion Andrus Learning Center is open year-round during regular Arboretum hours. It is broken into three age zones: infant, toddler and pre-school, each offering age-appropriate ways for little ones to interact with plant life and nature. Volunteers and staff welcome children to explore with curiosity, says Sandy Tanck, manager of interpretation, at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. “We created the play yard after years of planning,” Tanck says, noting that the play area was inspired by research that shows how the time a child spends outdoors contributes to healthy development. “We wanted to offer a play destination for children 5 years old and under that would draw children to spend more time in the natural world and inspire child care centers and other groups who work with children to come up with concepts like this one.” According to Tanck, the play yard was a hit immediately, quickly filling with visitors. Sarah Burgess and her two sons, 3-year-old Auggie and 2-year-old Harry, were frequent visitors to the Green Play Yard. “I love it,” says Burgess. She says her sons were thrilled when they first visited the play yard last summer. The family participated in a program called Twos and Threes Out to Play, but the play yard is open to the public even during programming hours. Burgess’s sons leave happily messy and exhausted after a fun and active play time. “And the volunteers could not have been nicer to my boys,” Burgess says. “There were stations everywhere with spray bottles, water tables, mud and anything you can imagine a child enjoying.” Burgess describes the play yard as the perfect summer destination for young children. “I always brought a change of clothes because I knew it would get messy, but it was absolutely worth it,” Burgess says. “I would do everything in my power to make sure the boys didn’t fall asleep on the way home because they had so much fun and were so tired from solid play time.”   Edible Playground A second green playground option opened up in Eden Prairie in 2012 at Prairie View Park. The Edible Playground gives children a chance to discover the world of food in a hands-on way. The edible playground is open to elementary school students and kids in Parks and Recreation programs. It’s not open to the public, but offers opportunities for local kids to “get their hands dirty,” says Eden Prairie parks and recreation director Jay Lotthammer. Children help plant and keep up the gardening. They also have the opportunity to eat the foods they work so hard to grow. “This is a great way to teach kids where food comes from,” Lotthammer says. “Our programs emphasize helping children learn to make healthy decisions when it comes to food.” Shakopee resident Katharine Caliri signed up her two children for Eden Prairie’s Playground Camp for the past several years. Her kids, ages 6 and 9, love it. “The addition of the Edible Garden last summer was wonderful,” Caliri says. “The kids had a great time helping tend the garden, but especially loved the days when a guest came to help them make something from the garden’s vegetables. The program encouraged them to try foods they wouldn’t normally eat.” Caliri loves having her kids see where their food comes from rather than assuming it comes from the grocery store, wrapped in plastic. “They were able to see the process from start to finish,” she says. “From planting the seeds to making and eating the salsa, I think it’s one of those fundamental lessons all kids need to learn.” The Edible Playground is just one part of the city’s long-term goal to keep its residents healthy. Eden Prairie was the second city in Minnesota to pass a Healthy Eating, Active Living resolution in August 2012. “Our city is committed to helping our residents make healthy choices,” Lotthammer says.