If there is one thing I love about the Dutch it’s their willingness to let their kids get dirty. Probably not all Dutch, I’m possibly over generalizing but I think that the fact that there are mud pits in most playgrounds and play forests everywhere says something about the general laid back attitude of the culture. I was never dirty! I wore frilly dressed and white shiny shoes that were not to get scuffed as a kid. My kids seem to constantly look like a pack of wild, dirty children straight out of Lord of the Flies. I love it! But anyway, the Dutch do messy play very well and Oisterwike Bossen en Vennen is the perfect example. De Oisterwijkse is a nature reserve about 30 minutes outside of Eindhoven in a town called…wait for it… Oisterwijkse, easy right? Bosssed en Vennen translated to forest and streams. This sums it up perfectly, its a nature reserve with a forest and streams in Oisterwijkse. But let me tell you, this place is special.
I have actually been here twice. The first time was with a friend and her 3 amazing daughters. We found the playground and got distracted with some epic teepee building in the woods. The visitors center wasn’t open so we didn’t think to go to the other side of the building. We had a really lovely day, don’t get me wrong, but I was honestly thinking that it really didn’t seem worth the drive. I have a local Speelbos (play forest) that is just as good. Little did I know!
I went with a different friend this past weekend and her 3 super fun boys and got to see more of the park. We started out in the same playground as the first time. It’s a nice little playground, it really is. But all I’m thinking is “why did I come back here? We could have cut the drive in half and gone to Bosschuur De Meren . Oh wait, because I had completely forgotten the name of the place the last time I was here. Damn”. Or something like that. I mentioned this to my friend and she told me that there was much much more. She has very good taste in kids places so I relaxed a bit and waited.
The playground I’m talking about is just down the path leading from the parking lot on the left . Right across from the visitors center. I promise you can’t miss it. The nice thing about starting your outing here is that this is where the picnic tables are.
After the first round of food and some playtime we went into the visitors center. Mostly because everyone had to pee. But then the kids got distracted by the play area and were lost. We took the opportunity to have a beer, so all was right with the world. The visitors center is really nice. There is a lovely cafe with an above average Dutch menu and reasonable prices. We didn’t eat but the food being delivered around us looked really amazing. The space is also really comfortable and there is a killer patio. The play area is a tree house style cabin and basement with nature related games and videos. There is also a little play area with different games, puzzles and books. The kids were entertained for a long time.
When everyone had peed and we had finished our adult beverage we left through the side door and walked toward the back of the building. Down the path is where the real magic starts. This is nature play at it’s best (or at least the best I have ever seen). There is a pump at the top of a small hill that feeds into a pool of water. There is a bridge but the the real attractions are the stone path that crosses a narrow spot and the huge felled (fallen? I think felled is right based on a quick google search) that goes across a bit of the water.
So my American parents are freaking out. Yes, this place can be dangerous. The water isn’t deep but it’s deep enough to drown in, for sure. All the kids are running around like feral children. I saw one kid walking around with a huge hunting knife! To be fair he was an older kid who was using it to cut branches, but still. He also sharpened a stick for my son so I had to brace myself for my wild child running recklessly through a wooded area holding a very sharp stick (thanks, dude). The boys fought over that stupid sharp stick for ages (again, thanks…). It’s still in my living room. It is now a treasure.
As horrible as it sounds, nothing really bad is going to happen, knock wood. I had to really learn this. I was a helicopter parent with my first and found it just to exhausting. I think there are scraped knees and some bruises but really not much more. Kids are tough. Let them try.
I love these places. I love the imagination based play that they inspire. I love that kids have a relatively safe place to push the limits of their bodies discover how amazing nature can be. I love that they can get super muddy and wet and it’s fine. All the love.
We ended our outing with a little walk though the woods. It’s a small path that goes in a circle. It was nice. Fun was had by all and I had the opportunity to feel very good about my parenting because I was exposing them to nature thereby offsetting the hours of tv they watched the previous day (or some other mommy guilt parenting craziness) .
It was a very good day. I can’t wait to go back and I highly suggest everyone check it out. The kids will LOVE it.
And also, go there without kids! They have a high tea that looked really freaking great. The terrace is really awesome and you can’t beat the environment. I would totally have a adult only lunch or tea there. The actual grounds are really big. You could get a group together and start at the visitors center, go for a long nature walk and end it with lunch or tea. Hmmm.
Some Helpful info:
Looking for other places to play in nature?