“Be very quiet, Heidi, and we might see some animals this morning.” These are the words my father would tell me as he walked my older sister, Katie, and me to school. Our local elementary school, Oscar Henry Anderson (OHA) Elementary School in Mahtomedi, Minnesota is surrounded by eleven acres of woods and prairie. Spending time in the woods with my father and sister are some of my best memories of elementary school. On our morning walks we would find as many different plant species as we could and have contests to see who could pick out which bird was making each call. Things were constantly changing in the forest, and every day there would be something new to find. I want everyone to experience these things, this is what I had in mind when my dad, sister, and friends Andrew, Cole, Brennan and Davis, and I decided to create a nature playground for the children of OHA. We pulled gooseberry bushes, buck thorn, and barbed wire out of the area and constructed a natural barrier. We moved some logs that had been cut and pulled using the old style horse method into the area for the kids to play on.
I recently went back to OHA to ask the kids what they think about their new natural playground, called The Outback. I sat down with Devon, who told me he likes going out there and building things. I then talked to Johnny and Josh and asked them what their favorite place was, and Josh immediately answered that there is a tree stump that makes a perfect bench. I also chatted with Hailey, Eva, Alicia, and Zoe, and they all said that it was their favorite part of school. They told me the best part about The Outback is that everyone works together as a team and there is no fighting. They are accepting of each other and everyone is allowed to play. I think it is incredible that these kids are able to come together as one and have a good time.
The Outback is surrounded by a barrier of buckthorn and other branches so kids can’t wander off. It is near the school, yet secluded enough that the kids feel free. Overall the Outback teaches kids about the plants and animals that live near us and how to take care of the woods. It inspires innovation and fosters creativity.
Heidi is a sophomore at Mahtomedi High School, Mahtomedi, MN, where she participates in cross country running, Nordic skiing, track, band and Eco Club. She enjoys being outside, especially fishing and hunting with her family and friends.
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