It's been almost a year since Ijams Nature Center opened Jo's Grove, a nature playscape for children. When Jo's Grove opened last May, there were fairy and gnome costume contests, a fairy themed tea party, and a fairy house and gnome home competition. The Grand Opening event last year was SO much fun, but also SO crowded. The grove itself is a wooded hillside with several paths, some dirt mounds, a few stumps and stools for the kids, several benches for the grownups, and a really cute playhouse. Everything seems to fit the natural environment and everything invites kids to run, jump, and climb. The success of the Grand Opening last year, unfortunately meant that every square inch of the grove was litterally crawling with kids (I mean fairies and gnomes) who were trying to build their gnome homes....without getting stepped on. It was wonderful, but it was a lot to navigate with a two year old. Last year, I opted to feed my daughter a picnic lunch outside of the Grove and then returned to an almost deserted playspace when all the fairies and gnomes went to their tea party and costume contest. Once things settled down, and emptied out, we had a really fun time and I got some AMAZING photographs of my little fairy in this incredible environment. (If you would like to see more from the grand opening, please follow this link to my personal blog.)
This year, my daughter and I returned to Ijams Nature Center and Jo's Grove on a non-grand opening Saturday. I got nervous when I realized that the main parking lot was full when we arrived, but Ijams is a big place so (this time) it never felt crowded. In fact, for most of our time in Jo's Grove this weekend, my daughter and I had the place to ourselves. This year she did not dress as a fairy, but quickly decided that I was a dinosaur and she was a dinosaur hunter. The adorable playhouse became a safe house to hide from dinosaurs and the hills transformed into mountains from which we could keep a look out. That pretty much sums up what I LOVE about this "nature playscape"! Everything is natural and fits the environment, but everything is also completely open to the interpretation of a child's imagination. Looking around Jo's Grove, I could tell that, in the year that it had been open, holes had been dug, mud had been mixed (and thrown), sticks had been moved and piled and yet nothing had been "damaged". Jo's Grove was well obviously designed by the grown-ups at Ijams, but with an understanding that children want to interact with the space in ways that we can't necessarily predict. I highly recommend a visit to Ijams and especially to Jo's Grove. If you plan on visiting a lot, and you can act fast, you can click on the link to a Groupon deal for half off membership! If you would like to see more pictures from this year's trip to Jo's Grove, please follow this link to my personal blog.