Sewickley Heights nature center gets kids' eyes off their screens

dt.common.streams.StreamServerJennifer Scheib has found a haven that ensures her sons, Matt, 9, and Jake, 7, get to experience the outdoors in a safe and unique way.

She started taking them to Fern Hollow Nature Center and its Natural Outdoor Classroom “to get them off the computer.”

“It's something that's structured, but there's a lot of room for creativity,” said Scheib, of Economy. “It's a good, open space for them to run around and it's a safe place to do that.”

Fern Hollow's outdoor classroom is the first certified “Nature Play” area in Pennsylvania as listed by the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimension Research Foundation. It's the 44th such certified area in the United States. The program was inspired by the Arbor Day Foundation's “Nature Explore” program.

Constructed in the White Pine Forest section of Fern Hollow Nature Park along Glen Mitchell Road in Sewickley Heights, the outdoor classroom opened in spring 2010 but will have an open house toward the end of July to introduce new features.

A grant from Child Health Association of Sewickley last summer for about $2,900 partially funded the second phase of construction at the outdoor classroom.

This past spring, Fern Hollow received a grant from the Garden Club of Allegheny County for $8,265 to complete that phase.

The classroom is open from dawn to dusk. Wednesday Nature Play Dates are geared toward children in preschool through 8-year-olds.

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