Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museums and Gardens helps children step away from day-to-day distractions and reconnect with the world outside.
Walking down the sloping path, the air fills with the sounds of children laughing and playing. A father smiles as he watches his daughters, dressed in butterfly wings and an owl costume from an overflowing costume box, examine the small blooms of a new blueberry bush and a planter box filled with carnivorous plants. On a sunny summer day, energy and enthusiasm resonate throughout the grounds of Heritage Museums and Gardens—and emanate from the families and children exploring Hidden Hollow.
For decades, visitors from all over the world have visited Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich to see 100 acres of famous gardens, explore beautiful outdoor spaces, and enjoy treasures in three unique Americana museums. Three years ago, Heritage added a new attraction: Hidden Hollow, a place where families can escape the ever-growing technological influences of today and experience the beauty of Cape Cod’s landscape. With innovative activities, interesting exhibits, and a schedule of monthly planned events and classes, Hidden Hollow sees well over 50,000 visitors every year.
“The goal is to allow children to rediscover the joys of being outside and facilitate family time together,” says Ellen Spear, president and CEO of Heritage Museums and Gardens. “We want to pique children’s natural sense of wonder, and help them unplug and connect with nature.”
Hidden Hollow’s two and a half acres were once a composting site for tree stumps harvested from the extensive grounds. By August 2010, Hidden Hollow was designated a Certified Nature Explore Classroom, an initiative put forth by the National Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation. Only three other such designations have been awarded in New England. For today’s children, with technology increasingly commanding their attention, such resources encouraging play in the natural world are needed more than ever.
Recent studies have shown that younger generations are spending significantly less time outdoors than their parents and grandparents did, resulting in negative impacts on learning as they grow older.
“We were concerned about children not getting outside as much,” says Spear. “When you start to learn about ecosystems or water cycles, for instance, if you haven’t experienced these things firsthand, it’s much harder to grasp the deeper concepts inside the classroom.
We continually hear stories of children who prefer to stay inside and play video games or watch television rather than go outside and play. We created Hidden Hollow to give the children a comfortable and fun environment for playing and—even if they don’t always realize it—learning.”