Interpretive play key to children’s love of nature

Story / Image: © Beth Môrafon

Getting children involved in nature is key to ensuring the future of wildlife

VisitMôr Director, Beth Môrafon, explains the concepts behind nature-themed interpretive play in the Interpret Europe Newsletter.

Môrafon developed immersive play for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) to encourage young visitors to empathise with nature at Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire and Castle Espie Wetland Centre in Northern Ireland.

Learning through play

Toad Hall was designed to enrich visitor experience for those with young children and increase interest in and love of nature. With a capacity for 30 individuals, and around 30 minutes’ worth of activities, the play space provides a colourful year-round resource for families.

Toad Hall is amphibian themed, so it features exotic species such as red-eyed tree frog rockers as well as native UK amphibians. Exhibits explore metamorphosis and transformation through references to traditional fairy tales such as the Frog Prince and there are also more scientific games. Kids can dress up as frogs, jump, slide, play or even sit on a frog throne.

In the tabletop lounge area there’s a selection of games, which are, of course, amphibian themed. These are designed for both children and adults to enjoy. Adapted familiar classics include: Newts and Ladders, Connect Frogs and Guess the Amphibian. The games along with a variety of puzzles are regularly rotated to keep the zone fresh for repeat visitation.

Play, even for a rainy day

Play spaces are indoors with places for parents to sit and relax, so visitors can enjoy the experience whatever the weather. “It’s great to see Toad Hall buzzing in the quieter times, during school term time for example,” says Môrafon. “The play space is often busy with parents and carers midweek, which reflects the impact of the exhibit on off-peak visitation. Similar exhibits such as Brent Play Barn in Northern Ireland recorded peak visitation doubling in the six months following installation!”

Tundra fun in the Brent Play Barn

WWT Castle Espie is one of the only sites in the world frequented by migratory Light-bellied Brent Geese. The centre was therefore keen to show young visitors where the Geese disappear to in summer. The Brent Play Barn depicted their Arctic Tundra summer home and featured friend and foe play characters. These included Arctic Fox and Hare rockers along with a clamber play Goose with nest and eggs, a research hut and an immersive tundra landscape. Knowledge of the site, and its relationship to the wider world, was supported by the play experience.