On a recent weekend trip to New York City with my young boys, there were contrasts of man and nature everywhere: skyscrapers and trees, taxis and birds, playgrounds and climbing rocks. The latter might not be what we think of a contrast, but it was a funny and welcome one for me.

One morning, we left the hotel to go to the half-price ticket booth for a matinee of a children’s musical. It would be our first, and I had always wanted to see the “Lion King” on stage and thought my kids, ages 5 and 7, would be the perfect age for it. “No way!” they cried. “We don’t want to do that!” Standing on the street without a plan, I said, “Let’s head to the park.”

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We entered Central Park at 57th street, the closest entrance to Times Square. Immediately, they found an old tree with twisted, low branches to climb. Upon making my husband nervous that it was too close to the road, he said, “Hey look, there is a playground!” The kids ran joyfully toward the playground and looked like they had every intention of entering.

Here is where the contrast occurred. Standing twenty feet from the playground entrance, my sons ran straight past the playground and up the face of an enormous rock. “This is so cool!” they exclaimed, climbing up and down over and over again. There was no one climbing the rock, placed there by Mother Nature. In contrast, the man-made playground was packed with children.

My children’s excitement eventually attracted more kids and their parents. After more rock climbing, my boys went into the playground. They ran through the playground and played on the swings. But eventually, they asked to search for more rock formations to explore, and they didn’t have to go far.

Our morning of rock climbing reminded me of how exciting it is just to explore different parks. Certainly the play equipment may be different, which will be fun for kids. But the different landscape of every park could bring some more surprises – and a natural “playground” that offers even more fun than those that are man-made.

Rebecca P. Cohen is Founder and President of Rebecca Plants LLC, is a gardening and outdoor lifestyle company that inspires families to be outside and improve their well being. For her weekly online video series, “Get Out of the House” as well as Starla J. King’s guest blog series “Savoring Summer,” visit http://www.rebeccaplants.com.

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Published: September 10, 2009