How Nature Empowers Children

Nestled in a quiet patch of woods, just minutes from the hustle and bustle of the rest of town, children are busy constructing a woodland village, creating a complex communication system made of ropes, baskets and other spare parts and pieces. Another group of children works together to hoist a pallet over a fallen log to better secure their fort.

Reminiscent of the childhood many of us lived, TimberNook of Greater Burlington provides an outdoor environment where children can move their bodies and exercise their creativity. Owner/director, Colleen Christman of South Burlington, and her staff stealthily supervise as the children play.

“We want to empower children to make their own decisions and encourage them to work together,” Christman said. “Our role as the adults is to set-up the environment in a way that inspires their play and then step-back and allow the children to lead the way. We try to stay out of their ‘bubble’ and only intervene if there is a concern for safety. It’s amazing the problem solving and creativity that happens when adults give children the space and time. The children challenge themselves in different ways and gain so much confidence."

After launching six months ago, TimberNook of Greater Burlington joins a growing network of other TimberNook programs around the world. Angela Hanscom, TimberNook Founder, CEO, and pediatric occupational therapist founded TimberNook after noticing more and more children having trouble sitting still or paying attention in school, and others struggling with balance and motor skills.

“At our programs, we use the environment as a ‘third teacher’ to enhance child development and foster creativity,” said Hanscom. “It’s amazing to see children explore their surroundings, take risks, play, build and dive into their imaginations – all while enjoying the great outdoors.”

A growing body of research has determined that the more children engage in imaginative play and take reasonable risks outdoors, the more they are equipped to be successful in home and school environments. These benefits stretch over multiple developmental areas and Christman has seen this first hand through her work with children.

“The body and mind is an amazing thing. Everything is interconnected,” said Christman. “When children climb, they are strengthening the same hand muscles used for writing. Swinging and spinning helps engage the child’s balance system which also can help with attention and focus.”

Christman educates the families in her program with tips on getting outdoors and hopes that TimberNook of Greater Burlington can be the catalyst some parents and teachers need to encourage outdoor play in all weather conditions.

“Mud, rain, snow-- we do it all,” Christman said.

Families and children can participate in a variety of program options for children ages toddler to 12 years at their six acre program site behind Ascension Church on Allen Road. Their summer line-up includes entering the enchanted world of Robin Hood, catapult painting and other extreme art, creating a woodland carnival and more.

Christman has also begun offering field trip opportunities to local early childhood programs and elementary schools. As a Vermont licensed teacher, she understands the challenges that teachers face with education standards and hopes to show schools that outdoor play has a place in the school day.

“Play is learning,” Christman emphasized. “Children demonstrate math and science skills as they plan out and build their contraptions. Some days they are reenacting story books, creating signs or menus-- these demonstrate literacy skills. They learn to work as a team and cooperate. These are essential skills. Learning is happening all the time.”

For more information on TimberNook of Greater Burlington programs visit or contact Colleen Christman at