Bringing a Safe Woodland Experience to Kids
By Rebecca Evans
Photography by Emma Thompson
Fresh air, campfires, outdoors, and nature. Idaho is currently known as the location to live, due to its outdoor accessibility, rivers, mountains, and camp grounds. Still, many children are not afforded the opportunity to experience nature.
“I’m sad to say that my children, who were born and raised here in Idaho, have yet to camp or fish,” says one single mom. “It hasn’t been for a lack of resources, but more juggling schedules. Plus, there’s safety concerns as a single mom out in the wilderness with her children.”
Enter Aami Russell, co-owner of Woodland Kids. “I’m a mom with three young kids,” she said. “I wanted to develop something for children to help disconnect them from electronics and reconnect them with nature.”
Aami worked hard – bringing nature indoors – and partnered with her parents, who supported her vision. Together, they created Woodland Kids.
When you enter Woodland, you step into a wilderness environment with 14-foot custom-built trees greeting you. The pour-and-play rubber flooring offers a soft place to land. “My mom is an artist,” Aami said. “She designed many of the interactive creations – like the apple tree – which she painted so children can actually hand-pick felt apples.”
Aami’s mother also made the Woodland stuffed animals. “Every toy has been hand-selected and is eco-friendly based on research,” Aami says, adding that many of the toys were custom-designed by Aami and her team.
Woodland Kids hosts a log home, including a play kitchen and felt-food, alongside a woodshop that houses wood-building blocks of every shape and size. There’s even a farmers market that mirrors our own local markets – educating children about supporting local farmers and eating fresh foods.
“My dad built many of the structures, including the covered bridge,” Aami said. The bridge gifts children the experience of riding wheely cars through and around.
Beyond beauty, nature offers a rich learning environment that teaches valuable life lessons with a wide-range of experiences for self-discovery. “This is about stimulating the brain and creating space for imaginary play,” Aami explained. “Something that has been lost in the technology advancement of electronics and busy schedules.”
Nature nurtures the imagination, and the benefits prove invaluable for developing minds. When kids engage in this type of play, they’re experimenting with social roles, a key element for relational success later in life. They also learn to cooperate and compromise. Pretend play expands vocabulary as kids re-enact story-lines, such as “shopping” or “building.” More importantly, imaginative play fosters brain development through attempting new ways of thinking – including problem solving – an important skill-set used throughout a lifetime.
After gathering feedback from parents, paying close attention to restricted diets and allergies, Aaimi designed the picnic area, which offers healthy snacks. The facility is ADA compliant and is an all-inclusive atmosphere with future opportunity for special times for slower paced, sensory needs children.
This July, Woodland Kids, hosts activity classes such as drum building, seed planting, and more. They also offer birthday party and special-event packages.
“Honestly, I started Woodland Kids, because, as a mother of three, I felt a need in our community and I wanted to contribute,” Aami said. “My parents wanted to enrich our next generation as well. We’ve made a great team.”
For more information on Woodland Kids, visit www.woodlandkidsidaho.com.