Gifts to Our Community: Bernheim Forest
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest has a mission that stands as tall and as true as the trees in its forest. “The long-term goal of Bernheim is connecting people with nature, and so our adult and youth programs speak to that connection,” says Dan Pascucci, Bernheim acting director of education.
Bernheim introduces the value of nature through exploration. An adult can come to Bernheim and find programs geared toward wandering walks or specific steps through the forest. Guided hikes with fireflies, strolling through an edible garden, or even hiking all alone through a creek are all options on the “Things To Do” list at Bernheim.
One of Bernheim’s most popular activities for children is its Eco Kids Discovery Days, where kids explore with trained naturalist volunteers. There are also designated days where the only limit to play is a child’s imagination. Children are given the opportunity to experience “Free Play,” which is completely undirected and occurs in a natural play space. “A natural play space connects children directly to natural materials in a natural environment,” says Melissa Rue, Children at Play network coordinator.
In the hopes of stretching its educational roots further, Bernheim’s Free Play Initiative is branching out to urban neighborhoods, training teachers in the community, and consulting on building natural play spaces to provide more children with a chance for outdoor play. “We care about getting kids outdoors because it’s critical for their health and development,” Melissa says.
Bernheim and its educational component is an integral part of how deep connections to nature are made. “We have programs for a wide range of interests,” Dan says. “It’s a beautiful place to come to on your own, but when you tap into the knowledge of people who work here, it brings your experience to life.”