Favorite Natural Play Spaces or Family Friendly Hikes in NE Ohio- Liberty Park- Twinsburg Ledges Area and Nature Center
Hello! Welcome to a new blog series on our Favorite Natural Play Spaces or Family Friendly Hikes in Northeast Ohio, provided by Good Nature Therapy Services!
Good Nature Therapy Services is a nature based occupational therapy practice based out of Solon, Ohio and serving the Northeast Ohio area. This blog series will highlight some of what each location has to offer to child development, as seen through a pediatric occupational therapist’s eyes.
For this edition of our blog series, Favorite Natural Play Spaces or Family Friendly Hikes in Northeast Ohio, we are highlighting Liberty Park- Twinsburg Ledges and Nature Center in Summit Metro Parks.
Liberty Park- Twinsburg Ledges and Nature Center
9999 Liberty Rd, Twinsburg, OH 44087 Summit County
Liberty Park offers multiple family friendly hiking area, a natural play area, a nature center and a beautiful stage and seating area. It is a part of the Summit Metro parks and is located in Twinsburg, Ohio. According to Summit Metro Parks website, Liberty Park consists of 3,000 acres. We are going to be focusing on the Nature Center and Twinsburg Ledges Area in this blog.
While there are too many benefits to discuss in a blog post, this entry is going to skim the surface of some of the basic developmental skills children can work on while enjoying Liberty Park Twinsburg Ledges Area and Nature Center.
We are going to touch on the outdoor spaces today but please check out the 3,900 square foot Nature Center as well, which offers season exhibits, wonderful programming, activities, opportunities for learning and is “universally accessible, and specially designed for those with low vision and sensory (differences)” per their website. Their hours are listed on their website as: Wednesday - Saturday 10AM-5PM, Sunday 12PM-5PM, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Nature Center website: https://www.summitmetroparks.org/liberty-park-nature-center.aspx
Nature Play area website: https://www.summitmetroparks.org/getdoc/7720a5d5-bfdb-467a-b068-58f2d454751f/naturePlay.aspx
Read on for more information about all of the fun things Liberty Park Twinsburg Ledges and Nature Center has to offer!
What is Sensory Input?
We receive sensory input in many different ways and varied experiences are important for developing these sensory systems (such as sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing).
Children are also developing their vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The vestibular system receives sensory input from moving your head or body through space and helps with balance and body position, and the proprioceptive system receives sensory input from push, pull or resistance and helps us understand what our body is doing and where our body is in space.
Liberty Park Twinsburg Ledges Area and Nature Center has many opportunities for sensory input!
Here are just a few:
A short ways down an accessible trail is a Nature Play area in the forest, with small paths over a gentle hill and an open space with all natural play elements. There are 2 forts, a musical instrument, touch friendly decor, a potting bench, logs for stepping and balancing on and a vertical turtle maze. We are going to focus on opportunities for tactile or touch input which is available through the bark on the trees or branches that create the 2 forts, a space to scoop and squeeze squishy mud for mud pies, turf on the touch friendly flower decor, and a vertical wooden maze shaped like a turtle. Tactile experiences help children process the world around them through touch.
The path to Twinsburg Ledges is labeled as easy to moderate and we saw several children 3 and up while we walked. The Ledges have some rock formations on the trail that children can climb and explore. Climbing up and down and, where safe, jumping off provide great proprioceptive input (feedback to their joints) and vestibular input (moving their head through space), both important to develop for regulating and helping children know where their body is in space. It is important to stay on the trail in this area for your safety and for the safety of the environment.
Motor Strength and Coordination
What is Motor Strength and Coordination
Motor strength and coordination involves the development of and strengthening of all muscles in the body. For children, motor strength and coordination develops through a variety of movement opportunities. Some of our favorite include:
Climbing rocks works on whole body strengthening- hand strength when grabbing hand holds, upper body strength when reaching and pulling themselves up, core strengthening when stabilizing their body and lower body strength when finding foot holds and pushing with their feet and legs to climb up or down.
Liberty Park offers a lot of different terrain for children to navigate- pavement, dirt, dirt with dried leafy cover, mulch, wooden bridges or walkways, grass and rocky paths. Learning to navigate different terrain helps children with their balance and stability and helps them learn to adjust their strength and the way they move their body based on where they are walking- for instance, it is important to learn that wet grass can be slippery and so you need to move slower and stabilize with your core or rocky terrain means you need to pick your feet up higher than you would when walking on pavement.
Tree Slices/Stepping Stumps
Tree Slices or Stepping Stumps help children develop their sense of balance and stability and Nature Play has a space with a small gathering of tree slices for children to navigate- practicing their balance, problem solving and developing strength and stability.
Open area for running
As much fun as hiking and playing in a playspace is sometimes its nice to just RUN! Liberty Park has a stage, firepit and seating area just off the parking lot, as you are heading down the trail towards the Nature Play area and there is an open grassy space for running, playing tag, etc. Having open space helps children develop their strength, speed, agility and endurance.
Nature Play area and path
The Nature Play area also offers opportunities for motor coordination. There are large sticks that can be carried and rearranged to create forts, working on core strength, balance, stability and upper body strengthening. The turtle maze is
a vertical surface and working on vertical surfaces for upper body coordination is great for eye-hand coordination and upper body coordination.
What is Visual Processing?
Visual processing is the strength and coordination of the muscles in your eyes as well as the brain making sense of the information the eyes are sending.
Scanning for wildlife
As the hike winds through the woods, there are many opportunities to scan the forest for wild animals! Scanning works on developing the muscles in the eyes that are needed for reading (among other things!).
Well labeled trails
At the trailhead is a map and throughout the trails are well labeled signs with symbols specific to each trail. Reading and following the map and the signs works on a number of different visual skills such as visual memory (the ability to recall what the eye has seen) and visual discrimination (the ability to detect similarities or differences in what the eye sees) for matching the trail symbols.
Liberty Park has a lot of thoughtful little touches throughout- one of our favorite is the different animal prints leading in from the parking lot. Identifying what animal belongs to which prints works on visual discrimination, or the ability to recognize similarities and differences as well as visual motor integration, or seeing something and coordinating your body according to what you see (ie, following different tracks to see where they lead!).
Nature Connection and Mindfulness
What is nature connection and mindfulness?
Nature connection is the relationship between humans and nature and the feeling of awareness and closeness to nature and the natural world. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware.
Exploration and resilience
Liberty Park- Twinsburg Ledges and Nature Center has a unique offering in Twinsburg Ledges that are relatively accessible to younger children. These Ledges are novel and different to things children often see in their everyday lives or in their own backyards. Seeing something large and novel like these ledges can bring up a lot of feelings for children: excitement, nervousness, overwhelm, feeling curious, etc. and give them a chance to work on figuring out what they are comfortable with in terms of exploring or trying new things, a sense of pride in trying something new and a sense of wonder. Doing something they may feel is challenging like navigating a rocky trail can help build resilience by giving them the chance to problem solve their path within the guidelines of a safe trail.
Parts of the hike are immersed in the woods, which gives the hiker the feeling of being “away”. The feeling of being “away” is part of the Attention Restoration Theory (you can read more about it here). The feeling of being “away” refers to being separate from thoughts or concerns and as well as physically away from man made spaces. On the hike, children are fully immersed in the forest (with easy access back to the parking lot!) which helps them feel disconnected from the some of the busy-ness of daily life and focusing on nature or practicing mindfulness.
There are plenty of natural materials available- rock formations, wooden walk ways, dirt paths, trees, rocks, etc. of the hike as well as the natural materials of the play space (the slide is plastic but almost all other materials are natural materials).
Some Things To Know Before You Go:
Respect Park Rules and Boundaries- Liberty Park has signs throughout asking guests to stay on the trail due to the fragile environment off of the trail. They also monitor for poison ivy in the Nature Play area and provide white guide markers (pictured here) for the boundaries of Nature Play and ask children and adults to stay within those boundaries for their safety and for the safety of the environment.
Trail options- There are many different trail opportunities of all different lengths and different levels of accessibility. The trail to the Ledges is not accessible to mobility devices or strollers and young children would do best in a carrier. Trail descriptions, lengths and difficulty levels can be referenced under the Twinsburg Ledges Area and Nature Center section here: https://www.summitmetroparks.org/liberty-park.aspx
Some trails are accessible, some are not- The trails to the ledges are moderately rough and not accessible while the trail to the Nature Play area is accessible and loops back to the Nature Center. During the summer there is a flat grass path through the meadows as well, that often has a storybook trail provided by the library
Restrooms- restrooms are available
Water and Snacks- there are several areas to sit and rest to drink water and have a snack throughout including benches on the trail and near the Nature Center and a covered seating area with multiple picnic benches. In this covered seating area children can measure their 'wingspan' against many birds and there are bear safe trash and recycling bins nearby.
Fern growth- it is important to stay on the trail and there are signs that detail that the area is “covered by a living skin.” Ferns, moss and sensitive wildlife are part of (the) fragile environment.” The park asks guests “for (their) safety and the protection of the ledges” to “please stay on the trail.”
We hope you enjoy Liberty Park- Twinsburg Ledges and Nature Center! If you are able to visit, please comment below about some of your favorite aspects or experiences at this beautiful park!
Thank you for reading- if you have any questions about any of the developmental areas above please schedule a free 15 minute discovery call here!
Liberty Park- Twinsburg Ledges Area and Nature Center https://www.summitmetroparks.org/liberty-park.aspx
Liberty Park Nature Center https://www.summitmetroparks.org/liberty-park-nature-center.aspx
Attention Restoration Theory: Ackerman, C. E. (2022, November 18). What is Kaplan's Attention Restoration Theory (ART)? PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://positivepsychology.com/attention-restoration-theory/#:~:text=In%20a%20nutshell%2C%20Attention%20Restoration,%2C%20%26%20Garside%2C%202016).