Getting Serious About Play

“Years of research show conclusively that child-directed play... fosters the development of the whole child—children's cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills; contributes to school success; and is a necessary and important part of every child's life.”

Anna Housley Juster, Ph.D. Senior Director of Childhood Development and Community Engagement at Boston Children’s Museum

At Dunes Learning Center we take pride in giving kids an immersive experience in nature. Whether they are wading into the Little Calumet River to sample macroinvertebrates or hiking through the oak woodlands to Lake Michigan, students are provided the time and space to explore—something that is entirely new for many of them.

Our programs are built around curriculum- and field-based experiences including trail side ecosystem investigations, living history encounters, and nocturnal explorations. And yet it is often the periods between these planned activities when kids begin to come out of their shells and interact creatively with nature. Rocks are overturned, critter shelters are built, and kids begin to connect with their environment in a new way. 

While children’s play time has been steadily declining, and some schools have eliminated recess entirely, it’s important to recognize that play is an important, healthy and efficient way to fuel learning and development.

Educators report that it is in these moments that the students who have trouble paying attention in class become engaged in ways that their teachers have never seen before.

“A kid who had been thought of as a ‘problem child’ often thrives in this unstructured outdoor environment,” says Dunes Learning Center Education Director Erin Crofton.

On Thursday, February 25th from 6:00pm–8:00pm, the public is invited to a movie and panel discussion regarding the importance of play. Join us for a screening of the award-winning short documentary, The Land, An Adventure Play Documentary. The Land takes viewers inside an adventure playground that is based on the principle of child-directed play. The playground promotes an interesting and potentially controversial philosophy of allowing children to assess and manage risk on their own, and essentially make their own rules as they play. The result is a thought-provoking film that will give our panelists much to discuss. 

Melissa Moran, Community Outreach Coordinator at the The Nature Conservancy; Kim Swift, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Education Programs Manager; Walter Lenckos, Superintendent of Porter County Parks; and Vera Jones, Principal of Krueger Middle School will share their thoughts and experiences following the film, with Dunes Learning Center Education Director Erin Crofton moderating the discussion.

Tickets are $5 and should be purchased in advance at