Our Overseas Grandparent recently came to town and took her grandson on a fabulous day out to de Natureluur playground. She offers her experience and some tips if you're planning a trip to de Natureluur with your little ones.
Whenever I see my overseas grandson, now newly four, he requests adventures with me. Recently, during my June visit to Amsterdam, my daughter suggested that we explore de Natureluur, the nature play park at Sloterpark. A little web-based research indicated that it might be fun and also that there was no cafe there. A picnic was duly assembled and, dressed for the summer weather, we set off on our adventure.
The trip there, by bus and tram, went fairly smoothly, apart from my grandson insisting that I run with him wherever possible and the bus driver shutting me in the door twice in succession when I was trying to alight safely with my small charge. However, I was cheered by the fact that the entrance to de Natureluur is free. Sloterpark is near the terminus for the number 7 and 14 trams: we crossed the main road to reach the Natureluur footpath. Entering on this side of the park we were able to visit the small animal enclosures first. We saw budgerigars, goats, cows, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, a donkey, a pony and a large female pig, who approached to scratch her back on a tree just two meters from us. Following hard pathways in our sandal-shod feet meant that we did not get muddy, but as the animals roam freely we took care to avoid their trails of droppings. Perhaps wearing sturdier footwear would have been wise.
Leaving the animals, we set off for the nature trail, crossing an open, picnic-tabled space over grass and sand. The latter slowed us considerably as it got into the little one's sandals and stuck to the soles of his summer-sticky feet, causing him much discomfort. Every time I removed his shoes and de-sanded him he was only able to take a few steps before the problem manifested itself again. Oh how I wished he had worn shoes! Then we reached a brook with a bridge and had fun trip-trapping across, hoping there were no hungry trolls underneath. Our little one loves to be the leader so we followed him along a grassy pathway towards some trees. What excitement when the path opened out into a space with a raised, curving, uneven pathway built from cut logs securely fastened together! My grandson raced to clamber up the structure and lay on the logs in delight. Then I followed him around the log path, holding his hand occasionally when the gaps looked rather tricky. He was so pleased when he jumped off at the end, shouting "I did it!"
Next we came to a tree-climb, made safer by a wire-fenced guard structure. This was clearly for much bigger children and our little one calmly acknowledged this before moving on.
The woodland trail led to a large pond with even more adventurous opportunities. Neither my daughter nor I were brave enough to take our charge across the water on the zip wire, as we foresaw a group soaking. The floating log crossing was avoided for the same reason. However, we decided that the rope-driven raft looked viable, so after testing it to see if it would take our weight and remain above water, I helped the four-year-old on. We carefully adjusted our balance and I held his hand tightly, explaining that we needed to stand very still. His mother then gingerly joined us and valiantly pulled on the twin ropes to move the raft across to the other side of the pond, baulking only slightly as the slimy weed-covered centre sections slid through her hands. The raft was very exciting and a highlight of the trip.
Once over the pond, we encountered a raised bank where wild rabbits played. They disappeared as we approached, enticing my grandson to lead us up and over the bank in pursuit. On the other side, the grassy path soon opened into a bark-covered clearing with a tree house. Our little boy was really excited and wanted to climb up into it, regardless of the fact that he could not reach the first platform. His mother helped, lifting him to each platform until they reached the top. He was enchanted with being up high in the tree and could not stop smiling. At the bottom, guarding the picnic in the rucksack, I was determined not to be left out so found myself, at 62, climbing a tree with my luggage.
On the platform we ran around, commenting on what we could see from up high and staying clear of the ascent hole (although it did have a guard rail on one side). When we stopped I found my grandson pushing a small, folded leaf into one of the countersunk bolt-holes in the plank flooring. "What are you doing?" I asked. "The holes are all dirty – I'm fixing them!" was the engineer's reply. We were all beginning to tire when I heard a little voice say "Nanna, if we could bring our pillows and blankets up here we could sleep here all night, it would be wonderful!" I explained that Nannas don't really enjoy sleeping in trees because the biting insects make it uncomfortable. He considered this before announcing that he was hungry now, and if we could have our lunch in the treehouse it would be "awesome".
Ignoring the unhygienic setting, we seated ourselves around the edge of the platform's entrance, with my legs braced across the space beneath my grandson to ensure his safety. After using wet wipes and antibacterial hand gel, we enjoyed our picnic. Our little one's eyes shone as he munched away at a fairly healthy, home-prepared lunch and commented on how much he loved eating picnics in tree houses.
We enticed him down with the promise that he could take us across another bridge that we had spotted below. It led to a warm and steamy woodland walk with wildflowers, butterflies, birds, and bees. There were also lots of stinging nettles but the path was wide enough for us all to avoid the 'ouchy plants'. Bark-covered paths also proved problematical for the small person in sandals and we stopped many times to remove 'something in my shoe'. He was slowing noticeably so we began to head back. I couldn't resist his plea to go up into the tree house one more time and was rewarded, as his mother had predicted, by a refusal to descend after the allotted time in spite if the fact that we had made a deal that he would come down when the timer on Mummy's phone sounded.
It was now afternoon and we could hear children’s voices from the direction of the pond. Passing some ripe wild strawberries (which, when picked, washed, and tasted, were found to be disappointingly flavourless and "not like the ones in your garden, Nanna") we went to watch. It looked like an adult-led school party and our little one was fascinated to see the older children splashily crossing on the floating logs and the zip wire. They were also rocking the raft to make waves splash over the deck... great viewing for a little adventurer.
Continuing towards the exit we found a birthday party in progress at the picnic tables. Balloons hung from the trees and the children were clearly having a great time. My daughter and grandson spent some time relaxing in the large, colourful hammocks before we went into the nearby building to use the toilets (20c donation requested, our only expense apart from travel). After that, we waved goodbye to the animals and walked to the tram stop for our homeward journey.
We had a truly fabulous day out at de Natureluur, one that we will all remember for a long time. I do hope that you will be inspired to try de Natureluur with your own family. The paths are buggy friendly and there is a lot for older children to do, too. If you visit you might find the following tips helpful.
- We found we needed two adults for one lively four-year-old, so make sure you have enough adults for the children in your group.
- Take a picnic, with extra drinks. Running and climbing are thirsty work!
- A rucksack will help to keep your hands free for climbing, lifting, and holding on.
- Sensible footwear is a must... perhaps carry sandals if the weather is very hot.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the activities, e.g. running, climbing, jumping, swinging, and crawling.
- Wet wipes and a first aid kit are advisable.
- Let your child/ren be a little independent and try new things if they want to, as long as there is an adult close by to keep them safe. I know there is a view that if children cannot access an activity unaided they are too small to take part but, to my mind, helping them to experience crossing water on a raft or having lunch in a tree house instills such awe and wonder that it would be terribly sad for them to miss out.
Putting my grandson to bed that evening I sang his usual, made-up song of all the things that we had done that day. He said that he had had a really good adventure but had liked the tree house and the boat (raft) best of all. When asked the next day what he would like to do he replied that he would like to visit the tree house again. "Oh," I said, "but we did that yesterday." "Nanna" came the firm reply, "I want to do yesterday again today."
The Overseas Grandparent is currently grandparenting across three different countries. Having retired from her career in Special Needs Education to spend more time with her husband, children and grandchildren she now seems to be busier than ever!
Photo credit: Donna Bardsley and Jenny Bruce