Dunwoody Nature Center

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Atlanta’s Green Spaces

Atlanta is fortunate to have many outdoor spaces that are kid-friendly and great for exploring nature. While it still may be winter, bundling up and being outdoors provides a safe and socially distant environment for kids. Take a hike or explore the outdoors at one of these spots.

Wide-Open Spaces

Atlanta Memorial Park
This park stretches over 128 acres and features playgrounds, nature trails, and sidewalks, as well as a connection to the Atlanta BeltLine. The Memorial Park Conservancy works to make the park sustainable with native tree plantings and trail installations. 384 Woodward Way NW, Atlanta.

Piedmont Park
Located in the heart of Atlanta, historic Piedmont Park has over 200 acres of open spaces and places to explore. Wooded trails, bike paths, meadows, a lake, wetlands and more offer plenty of opportunities for play and discovery. 10th St. and Piedmont Ave., Atlanta.

Stone Mountain Park
Just outside of Atlanta, this 3,200-acre park has wide-open spaces and 15 miles of trails for walking, hiking and biking. Take the one-mile walking trail to the top of Stone Mountain; you’ll find plenty of nature and wildlife along the way. Lakes, wooded areas and nature habitats are great places for kids to explore. 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain.

Village Park at North Henry
This 34-acre park in Ellenwood has plenty of space to run and play. Explore the mile-long paved walking path, play ball or throw a frisbee on the event lawn. A fitness circuit for kids and adults is a great way to burn off energy. Where: 750 Fairview Rd, Ellenwood.

Steve & Virginia Tumlin Park
This wide-open green space is surrounded by trees and is the perfect place for kids to run and enjoy unstructured play. When you’re ready for a break, relax on the swinging benches that overlook the park. 400 Chestnut Hill Rd., Marietta.

Piedmont Park (Courtesy Piedmont Park Conservancy)

History in Nature

Cascade Springs Nature Preserve
Located just southwest of the city, this preserve has easy walking trails that wind past the remnants of a stone springhouse, streams and a waterfall.  Explore the Civil War-era earthworks dug by Confederate troops on this former battlefield site. 2852 Cascade Rd., Atlanta.

Oakland Cemetery
One of the city’s oldest public parks, this 48-acre green space is located near downtown Atlanta and is entertaining as well as educational. Trails weave through the historical gravesites, Victorian art and architecture, gardens and ancient oak trees. 248 Oakland Ave. SE, Atlanta.

Old Mill Park
This park in the heart of Roswell has hiking trails as well as history to explore. You’ll find the remains of the Roswell Manufacturing Company mills and a view overlooking Vickery Creek’s dam and waterfalls. Kids will have fun finding trail connections and walking across the covered pedestrian bridge. 95 Mill St., Roswell.

Lose Yourself in Nature

Chattahoochee Nature Center
At the CNC, located on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, you’ll feel immersed in nature. Forested trails and pollinator gardens let kids explore and learn about local animals and plants. Walk through the winter woods and find fairy and gnome houses made from natural objects. 9135 Willeo Rd., Roswell.

Dunwoody Nature Center
Embrace nature in this 22-acre and explore trails, Wildcat Creek, beehives, a wetlands boardwalk and more. This Atlanta favorite is a great place to be inspired by the wonders nature provides. Be sure to visit the hammock garden and swings before you head home. 5343 Roberts Drive, Dunwoody.

Cochran Shoals Trail
One of Atlanta’s most popular places to escape the sounds of the city, kids can run, hike, and catch scenic views of the Chattahoochee River. Look for birds and wildlife as you walk along the river and enjoy its breathtaking views. 1956 Eugene Gumby Rd., Marietta.

The Benefits of Nature

Kids Learn Through Play
Try to picture your child’s thoughts when they jump into puddles or move leaves from one pile to the next. “There’s no more natural way for kids to play than to explore their surroundings and environment,” says Carli Reis, a psychologist at Trinity School. “We all have manufactured things inside of us that are great, but they are much more directed. The great thing about being outside is that kids get to run free and explore, and there are no preset notions of what it is they’re supposed to be doing.”

Attuning Our Senses to Nature
Kids love to smell flowers, touch ladybugs, and see butterflies flutter around them. Each of those encounters taps into their senses. They naturally move more, and it’s easier to think creatively while searching for their next burrowed worm. Children also learn about their bodies when they interact with the natural world.

Screen Time vs. Green Time
Unlike television, nature gives our kids the tools they need to solve problems and use their imaginations. “My kids and I are the happiest when we are outside,” says Reis. “When there is some objective, it changes the nature of the activity. The beauty of being outside in nature is that there is no objective. It’s just to be!”

Free Play, Anyone?
Non-directed outdoor play teaches kids to trust their instincts and tune into their bodies. When our children navigate the outdoors, they are faced with thinking through possible problems and solutions. How deep does this sand go? How can I get to the other side of this pond?

Creating an Outdoor Space in Your Back Yard

Some parents have tree climbers, mud pie makers, or scientists that investigate bugs. Encourage that curiosity at home – your outdoor space doesn’t have to be as grand as an outdoor park; work with what you have! Here are some ideas for encouraging kids to explore and play in nature, right in your back yard.

 Gather and make use of materials you already have – leaves, branches, rocks, sticks – and place them in an area that will encourage building, balancing, and exploring. Leave your child’s play options open-ended by providing the props for imaginative play.

 Younger children will enjoy getting wet and playing with the basics: sand, water, mud puddles, pine cones, and smooth pebbles all encourage free play. Getting messy is a good thing!

Older children may enjoy the process of constructing a treehouse or lean-to, planning a backyard camping experience or a night of stargazing.

Children of all ages can help with the planning and planting of a backyard garden – all you need is a patch of sun. Dig a garden bed or invest in a few large planters; choose kid-friendly veggies and encourage kids to dig in the dirt!

-Kimberly Martin

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