Bernheim Forest creating “Playcosystem”

By Bernheim

New adventure playground encourages free play and exploration

Free, wild and adventurous play in nature will soon ignite children’s imaginations when Bernheim Forest opens Playcosystem, a new 10-acre natural playground currently under construction at Bernheim. Playcosystem is designed in harmony with nature to provide children with open-ended, physically challenging, and unstructured play opportunities that support healthy development.

Playcosystem will be located across from the Visitor Center. Visitors will enter through the Nature Playground, a natural playground with constructed areas that will meet the developmental needs of young children. The Nature Playground will then stretch into TreeCess in a park-like setting, where children will be able to engage in more adventurous play. This space eventually leads to the 5-acre Adventure Forest, where children will have free range to unstructured exploration play in the woods. The opening of Playcosystem will be announced at a later date. The timeframe is dependent on construction and any necessary COVID-19 precautions.

Bernheim’s Facilitator of Outreach and Regenerative Design, Claude Stephens described the Playcosystem as “a play laboratory” which aims to inspire the creation of more natural play environments throughout the region. Stephens is also the director of the Children at Play Network (CAPN), a Bernheim initiative that educates about the importance of free play and facilitates the creation of extraordinary outdoor play environments that connect children with nature for life.

“We envision a changing landscape of play that is adaptable or adoptable by others. It’s the natural evolution of the decade-long effort Bernheim has invested into the many benefits of outdoor play through CAPN,” Stephens said. “CAPN works at the community level to advocate for free play outdoors so that every child has a place in nature where they feel free, safe, healthy, empowered, and joyful.”

Research indicates that natural playgrounds stimulate children’s imaginations, boost their energy levels, and increase the time they spend playing. When children play in natural spaces, they engage more creatively, work cooperatively, build problem-solving skills, and learn to navigate healthy risk. CAPN has partnered with organizations such as Play Cousins Collective in Louisville and the University of Louisville to conduct research at Playcosystem that will enhance playgrounds everywhere and help children connect with nature.

Bernheim Executive Director Dr. Mark Wourms said the skills children build while interacting in nature will last a lifetime.

“Playgrounds are part of the foundation of healthy communities,” Wourms said. “Bernheim’s goal for Playcosystem is to become a gathering spot for families to nurture connections between their children and the natural world to build the next generation of environmental stewards.”

To learn more about Playcosystem, and to stay up to date on our progress, visit

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