Why your child needs to spend time getting outdoors & adventurous

Here at The Inspiration Highway you will know by now that we love the great outdoors and any chance to introduce the Little Inspiration to nature. I have been looking for a local Forest School and Farm nurseries so that we can ignite her love for outdoor play.

When we were recently invited to Williams Den on a bright, sunny day, we went along with two very active 1 year old babies and a 3 year old toddler to see what it was about.

All I knew of it was that it was a children's play area on the edge of Hull. Did I assume it was a bit like soft play? Probably. Were my expectations wrong and actually exceeded? Definitely.
As we drove towards Williams Den, the landscape changed and we were on the edge of the beautiful, gently rolling hills of the Yorkshire Wolds. An area famed for its outstanding beauty and fantastic countryside but located between Beverley, South Cave, Hull and just off the M62.

The large car park hinted at what was beyond as excited children pulled their parents along by the hands, impatient to get inside. Teepees, interesting zip wires and all sorts of other large play apparatus peeked out over the hill, providing a tantalizing glimpse at what lay beyond. 
The property looked like something out of Grand Designs, with several rustic, agricultural barns connected together, blending seamlessly into the other farmsteads around. It boasts some pretty amazing eco credentials, with natural materials, rain water harvesting and green energy solutions, which is something that appealed to us in this age where it is more important than ever to teach children about protecting the environment for the future.
As we walked into the bright, airy lobby, it was cheery and inviting, with little nooks, containing a book swap library and fun props to pose for family photos with. 
We were greeted at reception who kindly pointed us the way of the cafe, which was our first port of call, having arrived at lunch time. Tip 1: go before 12 or after 1pm to avoid crowds as we got there are 12:30 which was the lunchtime peak. 
We loved that it is called The Kitchen Table, as a nod to getting families eating and socialising together again, and that is exactly what we saw. 
Multi generations sat together tucking into yummy looking plates, sharing food and chatting excitedly about what the afternoon held. 
The cafe, which calling it that doesn't quite do it justice somehow, is housed in a characterful, beamed part of the barn, with exposed brick and pastel coloured furniture, that just invites you in to sit a while and enjoy a tasty treat.
We loved that this part of Williams Den is open to anybody and is free to enter, without having to go into the attraction. 
Tip 2: there is a FREE outdoor play area for toddlers at the back of the cafe, with toys, chalkboards and other things to keep them entertained. It is all contained so you can relax with your latte knowing little one can't get up to much mischief when your back is turned.
We could imagine popping there on a weekend for a lazy brunch or meeting our baby group friends for a coffee, without the commitment of staying to play every time. We even thought it would make an amazing event space for all sorts of parties and celebrations. 
The food options were home cooked and tasty, with a separate menu for littlies and adults, but both containing similar wholesome food. We ordered two 'child' pizzas for us to share with the one year olds, which were 10 inches and actually a really good size. The toddler picked a Courgette and sweet potato burger which was a hearty and yummy. 
As we arrived at peak times, we did wait slightly longer than 30 minutes for food but it was worth it when it came. It came as no surprise to learn that as a working farm, they use only local suppliers and growers for their food. 
Williams Den is more than just a soft play or children's park, it is an ethos. Part of a working farm, it was where one of the owners grew up and enjoyed the countryside on his doorstep. Far from being a safe place to roam, a farm posed many risks but it encouraged independence and taught lots of life skills. 
I often hear parents like us say that kids don’t play like they used to. Now we are scared to let them disappear into the fields all day and return home at dinner time covered in mud. Or to take measured risks and learn from them. We live in a different world now, perhaps, and our young ones seem to be trapped by screens and devices, rather than getting out in the fresh air and exploring what nature gave us.
In around 2 acres you will find all sorts of lovely, tactile large and small play apparatus. There is a safari style tent with story telling circle sitting centrally, huge sandpit, zip wire, and other daring looking wooden play equipment. There are large swings, where I saw five girls all heaving it back and forth, giggling shrilly as they went higher still.
As we explored the play areas at Williams Den I soon learned this was no soft play, or even somewhere I would be able to let the Little Inspiration and her partners in crime go off on their own. It is described as 'risky play' as it encourages little ones to learn. Far from teaching them there will always be a soft landing, everything here is made from what the earth gave us. Sand, rocks, earth, wood and water. 
The Little Inspiration and crew headed straight to the enormous sand pit, which was packed full of ingenious contraptions for scooping, shoveling and collecting sand. At one end was a large working water pump, which one boy was delightedly working to create a stream of water, where kids eagerly collected it to take back to their sandcastles in progress.
It was all very sociable, with children from different groups playing together, and parents chatting to each other and even joining in with the creations. In fact, everything here is made to be adult sized and suitable for grown ups to play on. Williams Den have tried to create a family play zone, where rather than parents being stuck in the background watching little ones play, they can join in. 
As we wandered around the rest of the play area, I saw mum's and sons crawling over and through the hobbit hills, dads chasing their little ones around playing tig and all members of the family with big grins on their faces. Whilst there is a big terrace with wifi and comfy seats, where you can zone out on your screen for a while, it's really about embracing your inner child and having some fun with your kids. 
Tip 3: If you're with young toddlers even up to the age of 5, do not expect to sit still once, as there are a variety of different levels, steps, and water everywhere, but, rather than seeing these as potential hazards, we embraced it and let the Little Inspiration explore, but with us following safely behind her. 
Her favourite area outside, other than the sandpit, seemed to be the mud kitchen where she played happily for ages digging and playing in the dirt. I had to fight every instinct to want to keep her clothes clean and just let her get on with it, which she enjoyed immensely. As she came towards me with tiny, muddy hands and a glint in her eye, I lost my nerve and baby wiped her before I got as dirty as her.
I was hoping there might be some baby swings, as she adores them at the park, but I could not see any unfortunately. Although too big for our littlies, we loved the den making part of the play area, where I saw parents and children picking up sticks and carefully crafting a secret fort of their own.
As the Little Inspiration started to get tired, I put her in the buggy and went for a stroll around the beautiful, wild meadow that is at the edge of the play zone. Full of wildflowers and hidden from view, it feels like a million miles from the hustle and bustle of The Den. We enjoyed a few moments of tranquility and took in the stunning views over the wolds. The perfect place to devour one of their award winning ice creams in peace!
Soon the toddler in our group informed us there was an indoor play area, which we had totally missed on the way in, and ended up being his favourite bit of Williams Den. Inside was another huge sandpit with a curly, looping slide from the tall tree house down into the sand. There were wobbly bridges, climbing ropes and various levels to the enormous wooden structure. 
At ground level was a stream running all the way through it, with another big water pump and a dam to hold the water in the various rock pools. The Little Inspiration loved splashing her hands in the water and I helped her paddle her little toes in it, too. The littlies wanted to climb the stairs and join the big kids but we were hot on their heels.
Were we shattered by the end of our stay? We sure were! But will anything replace the smiles, giggles and delight in her eyes at conquering these challenges? It was absolutely worth collapsing exhausted at the end of the day.
All in all, we were impressed with Williams Den and felt it was totally unique to this area, and even beyond. Sure, it's probably better suited to older toddlers and children up to 12, but its appeal is broad and even with our mobile one year old babies, we felt that we experienced much of the Den. Even with the typically unpredictable British weather, it embraces getting wrapped up and outdoor and adventurous.
We noticed they have various events in the pipeline, from den making workshops and sleepovers, to pizza and music evenings. Family socials are definitely something we would be interested in and its great knowing that we could enjoy good food (and maybe a cheeky glass of wine) and the Little Inspiration could make noise and run wild and free without disapproving glances.
One of its greatest achievements is its accessibility, from having wheelchair/ buggy access pretty much everywhere, including right up to the rock pools, and Changing Places toilets which have family loos designed for the awkward moments when daughters don't want to go in the men's with daddy anymore. 
For families with children experiencing sensory processing difficulties, it could be a little haven if they dedicated a quiet hour during off peak hours.
It seems like a place that will grow from strength to strength as its attracting visitors from far and wide, and there will be more to it as it grows, but, as with everything that is independent and locally driven, people need to use it or lose it. I hope it's the former with Williams Den. Certainly as the Little Inspiration gets older I can see us becoming regular visitors.

Have you heard of Williams Den or even visited? What do you look for in a family adventure park?

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