The boys love hands-on outdoor play. Digging in the dirt, making mud pie, pouring water type of stuff. We have the mud kitchen in our backyard, but we are always looking for new places to explore in addition to returning to the tried-and-true. Some of our Greenville favorites include the RMSC butterfly garden and Linky Stone Park, even though neither is meant for digging but more for exploration and observation. We often head to Paris Mountain State Park for outdoor hiking, to pick up sticks and find rocks, but as a State Park digging is frowned upon and lugging a bunch of containers and toys out can be tiresome. However a new spot has gotten our attention as a sort of giant mud kitchen – the Swamp Garden.
I’ve written before about our nearby bakery & locally-sourced grocery, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery – here about the store and here about their produce boxes. We often meet our friends at the Cafe because it is a great spot for a short hike on the Swamp Rabbit Trail and a healthy snack afterwards. Picnic tables with shade awnings provide relief from the sun and cool drinks and treats from the store are always a delight. However we always had to be extremely diligent in watching the kids, because in addition to the vehicular traffic there was also bicycle traffic to worry about.
The solution is the Swamp Garden. Its intention is to “provide a free-range play area for small children in order to inspire their curiosity and a love for nature.” A non-obtrusive fence helps corral the kids while plenty of stuff keeps their attention for hours, and really it seems that there’s something new on each visit. It started off small, with stumps and picnic tables for parents to rest while the kids grabbed some of the containers from the shelf to collect hickory nuts or cicada shells. Then the wagon and various tricycles appeared, rendering the kids mobile. The bug cabinet with nets and fake bugs encouraging the capture of real bugs. A sand box ingeniously designed with a hinged lid that can be closed to protect from wandering nocturnal animals but is perfect for sand play. And the simple – a few kid-sized shovels for digging in the dirt and then all the things the kids have found: sticks, rocks, nuts, seeds.
This Halloween the Cafe & Grocery hosted Little Monsters Night on Halloween. With a scavenger hunt, pin-the-spider-on-the-web, story time and all sorts of other fun stuff, the boys had yet another chance to show off their costumes and play with friends. Wouldn’t you know it, despite all the arranged activities and their costumes, all they wanted to do was dig holes and pull that wagon around!
The swamp garden is what your kids make of it, just like the little library housed in the miniature house next to the picnic tables. I suggest stopping in to grab a fresh scone and coffee from the cafe, and then settling in for an hour or two while the kids play. Enjoy a brisk autumn day (or even a hot summer one as the mature trees provide plenty of shade) with friends and let them do their thing – be kids and dig holes.