Thursday, November 21, 2013

Prairie Ridge Eco Station

What it is: Prairie Ridge Ecostation is part of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It was established to provide outdoor learning opportunities and protect wildlife. The Ecostation alone is a great place to walk around and enjoy nature and different NC habitats but this post is specifically about their new Nature Play Space. It opened in September 2013 and was designed with small children in mind. 

We visited for one of their weekly story times, which take place in the Nature Play Space every Thursday morning, even in the winter. When you arrive you will park at the entrance to the Ecostation and then walk a fair distance to the Play Space. It's a downhill walk on the way in along a wooded path, although it appeared that there was a paved path that would also get you there but would be longer. Depending on your child you might want a stroller or carrier for the walk back to the car. This particular story time was about the signs we see in the woods that indicate the presence of animals. The instructors read a story and also had several items to look at such as bird nests, seeds that had been eaten, footprints and more. After the story we took a walk through the grounds to look for signs of animals. The instructors were wonderful and patient with the wide age range that attended and various levels of engagement. Our children struggled with staying engaged with the story because of how exciting the play space was. I recommend either arriving early or visiting a few times before coming to a story time to hopefully assist in paying attention.

After the story we stayed and played in the space. There is a digging pit with child sized shovels like in the dinosaur area at the Museum of Life and Science. Also like at the museum in the Into the Mist exhibit there is a hill with a tunnel and slide. My son's favorite were the opportunities for water play (bring a change of clothes). There was an old fashioned hand pump in one area and a separate area with a faucet, rubber tubing, funnels, buckets and more. My daughter enjoyed the PVC pipe ball tracks. There was also chalk for drawing, areas for imaginative play and a small amphitheater area.  

What we liked: The whole space is welcoming and offers lots of opportunity for open-ended play. It's set way back in the woods so you don't have to worry about wandering into roads and parking lots. The materials available seem like they can evolve and change over time and are engaging for lots of ages and interests. There was also a picnic area right near the play space in a shady spot, so it would make a great summer lunch destination.

What we would change: Our children weren't engaged with the story time, partly because of the excitement of the new space and partly because the instructors are teaching to many ages and levels at a time. The website says that they are for 6 and younger and the whole range of those ages was represented when we went. We will probably wait to try another story time until our kids are older and have had more experiences just playing in the space. 

Website and other info:

Hours: MondaySaturday: 9 am–4:30 pm
Sunday: noon–4:30 pm
The main gate is locked at 5 pm daily.
Nature Storytimes are at 10:30-11:30 on Thursdays. 

Cost: Free

Location: 1671 Gold Star Drive
Raleigh, NC 27607  (Same exit as RBC center)


(the PVC ball track-it's all moveable.)

(the hand pump)

(the water play area)

(the picnic area)

(the digging area)

(some "loose parts" in bins on the fence)

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