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By Kathryn York
With Sand Play Saturday at the Santa Fe Railyard on hold until 2021, the Railyard Park Conservancy offers suggestions for nature play at home or in your favorite local park.
Imagine a world where everyone's a little kinder, a bit more compassionate, and curious about their natural surroundings. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but the pathway might be closer than we think. When we give kids the opportunity to explore the outdoors and connect with others, they are one step closer to creating that magical world for all of us.
Early childhood development studies show contact with nature has significant health and cognitive benefits for children, including increased creativity and reduced rates of aggression. Interacting with nature allows children to form a deeper connection with their surroundings, explore the sights, scents and sounds of the outdoors, and even experience a sense of peace. When children get their hands dirty in the natural world, the imaginative and scientific possibilities are endless. Sand castles and mud pies become more than constructions but rather entire worlds — and an inspiration for inventing and pretending.
For the past few years, the Railyard Park Conservancy has offered Sand Play Saturday, a free community program from 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday all summer long. Unfortunately due to the gathering restrictions and uncertainty of Covid-19, Sand Play Saturday will be put on hold until 2021.
Sand Play Saturday has traditionally offered an opportunity for kids and their families to come together the beautiful, multilevel sandbox in the Railyard’s children’s play area. With the help of a variety of kitchen utensils, toys, “nature bits” and one’s own hands, a sanctuary of imaginative nature play comes to life. Adding water to the play is key to the fun — and helps us all stay cool as the summer heats up.
While imagination, invention and behavioral skills are integral components to sand play, math and science skills are engaged, too. When a child constructs a tower of sand or pours water into their castle moat, they begin to see firsthand concepts like volume and gravity. Children get to explore early physics concepts like motion and flowing water. Sand play creates a rich environment for learning and development.
Suggestions for Nature Play at Home
Even though Railyard Park Conservancy programs, like Sand Play Saturday, are on a current hiatus, you can still enjoy the benefits of nature-based play!
As the weather gets warmer and we all continue our social distancing, green spaces and parks become especially important assets for the community. While not everyone has access to a backyard oasis or plot of land, parks are accessible to all. Besides Sand Play Saturday programing, you can also enjoy a walk through the Railyard Park’s consciously designed trails and gardens. Discover the history of New Mexico’s old train lines in the rail gardens. Examine the native bee house, and learn what makes solitary bees unique. Check out the latest public art installation, Owen William Fritts’ “Grass Ballet,” located near SITE Santa Fe. Experience its magnificence both day and night. There’s always something new (or old!) to encounter in Santa Fe’s Railyard Park.
When we have the opportunity to gather in groups once more, let’s encourage kindness, compassion and curiosity not only for the natural world but for those who inhabit it. As the small nonprofit that provides community stewardship and advocacy for the horticultural care, educational programming and public art in the Railyard Park and Plaza, the Railyard Park Conservancy is committed to working with educators to get kids learning outdoors and offering parents new ways to connect their children to nature. Sand Play Saturday is just one way for us to come together as a community when our program opens again in 2021. Hope to see you all in the park soon!