Minnesota State Fair Nature Adventure Play Yard



Nature Adventure Play is a Powerful Antidote to the impact of technology on our children.

"It was a great time. It was a collaboration. It was for kids. It encouraged their natural instincts."


The Eco-Experience “Nature Adventure Play Yard” engages families in the adventure of environmental play. The intent is to show families how easy it is to create opportunities for backyard play. 


The play yard is a collaboration between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Fireflies Play Environments, Inc. It began in 2014 as a temporary exhibit. Due to the popularity of the play experience, the Minnesota State Fair requested it become a permanent feature.

Children of all ages immediately experiment with the creativity of the “ mad scientist”, messy sand kitchen and thrill at the extensive water hydrology configurations.

The busy Construction Zone  a-buzz with emerging architects, engineers, planners, politicians and lots of bosses.

The spirited, yellow and orange Tee Pees add artistic whimsy to a primal childhood symbol and provide opportunity for socializing and fantasy play.

“Mocking” in hammocks provides a soothing respite from the perpetual play party.  

Secret fairy cottages waiting to be discovered in an exuberant rain garden.

Coyote Play - Spirit of the Wild


Have you ever seen a coyote in the wild? If you’ve had the chance, you know that coyotes are often playful, spunky, and fearless.

They act like kids playing in nature!

Authentic nature play is unstructured, imaginative, and open- ended. It encourages the wild natural instincts in your child.

It also includes an element of age-appropriate risk-taking.

Risk taking can be as simple as climbing, balancing, and jumping from a new height.


Provide natural loose parts such as branches, sticks, rocks, leaves, pine cones and shells.

Collect a variety of construction materials, poles, boards, tarps, burlap, straw bales, cardboard boxes, plastic gutters and 2”x4”s.

Add tools like shovels, buckets and rope.

Include water, mud, dirt and sand. 

Plants, balance logs and stumps for hiding places and physical challenges.

Small characters and props for “fairy villages”

Swings, hammocks and other places for relaxing. 

The Benefits of Nature Play

A small backyard can include lots of the “good stuff” inherent in nature play. Provide kids with activities that are open-ended, challenging and engaging.

Outdoor nature play encourages unstructured, spontaneous play. This kind of play is good for physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. 

Kids work on:

*  Motor skills, fitness, balance and coordination

*  Creativity, problem solving skills, and language skills

*  Self-awareness and self-regulation

*  Communicating, helping, and cooperating.

*  Attention span and reduction of ADHD symptoms

*  Development of a sense of wonder and an appreciation of beauty

Sand and Water Play

Sand and water play are ideal for toddlers. Motor skills are developed as kids mold, pat, sift, stir, dig, pour, and trans- port. Imaginative play happens naturally, as kids make a cake…or even a mountain.

To try this at home:

Lay 3 inches of pea gravel for drainage, cover with land- scape fabric, and then add 18” of sand

Contain the area with logs, rocks, or decking.

For water play, you can include hoses, bins and pumps so that water can be stored and manipulated.

Construction Play

Construction play is great for older children. They will use motor skills, creativity, and teamwork to build forts, cubbies, clubhouses, hideouts, dens, and nests.

Try this at home:

Provide natural and manufactured materials such as logs, bamboo, and branches, rope, cardboard boxes, and more.

Avoid materials that have sharp or splintered edges.

Use fences, walls, or trees in the area to provide a structure to build against.

Backyard wildlife habitat

Backyard wildlife habitat will increase the frequency and types of interactions kids have with wildlife. 

It’s fun for kids of all ages.

Natural landscapes also provide many other benefits, including: reduced irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides; Increased property values; and reduced storm water run-off and erosion.

Try this at home:

Add native plants to your yard to provide cover, nesting materials, food and nectar for squirrels, birds, and butterflies.

Include a bird bath or pond as a water source.

Children at play at MN State Fair

"Bringing the wild back to the child."