We moved to a tiny village in rural Denmark (pretty much the middle of nowhere), so imagine my surprise when I discovered that we are living just a few short miles from a world-class nature playground.
It didn’t take long for me to hear many great things about WOW-Park, so I couldn’t wait to visit it with the kids and experience it for ourselves.
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect–after all, I had never been to a “forest amusement park” before.
The four kids and I headed out on a cool but sunny late summer day. After passing through rural countryside, we parked the car and entered the WOW-Park premises through an old, red-brick farm building. The interior had been converted to a cafe, with exposed brick, wide plank floors, and rough-hewn trestle tables lending a rustic, natural ambiance.
After passing through a courtyard flanked by more charming brick farm buildings, we arrived in a large field, in the center of which stood a massive, old oak tree outfitted with long rope swings and happily swinging children. We could have stopped there, but the forest beckoned.
The kids and I entered the shady forest and were immediately transported to a woodland wonderland.
My children wasted no time scaling the heights up to the quaint wooden tree houses.
A sense of fairy tale whimsy abounded as I watched my children travel from tree house to tree house along net bridges, strung amidst the leafy treetops.
As evidenced from this picture (below), I did eventually decide to climb up and join in the adventure (As it was explained to me, WOW-Park is for kids of all ages, from 2 to 102).
My children delighted in the enchantment of experiencing the forest from above–climbing high among the treetops, crossing through the leafy boughs, and sailing down slides to the forest floor.
Eventually we continued deeper into the forest to see what new adventure awaited.
We all got a “kick” out of the ball court, which hung suspended within a grove of trees. My kids bounced along, a massive inflatable ball adding to the fun.
Next we investigated the troll hill, crawling about, exploring a network of dark, cool tunnels.
We learned that this hill happens to be home to the park’s mascot–Max the Troll (a troll being a delightfully Scandinavian mascot, in my opinion 🙂 )
We continued along the winding trails crisscrossing the forest grounds, stopping off at various attractions including an elaborate (and surprisingly massive) wooden maze, a series of log balance beams, and numerous slides, rope swings, and zip lines.
I appreciated that everything was designed with care to invite play and adventure within natural surroundings. It was good to see my kids off screens and outside doing something physical.
After hours of active play, my four little ones had worked up an appetite, so we emerged from the trees and were greeted by a crackling fire, ready for roasting meat or preparing popcorn.
We enjoyed a picnic on rustic log tables and stools, but my kids didn’t sit still for long. After quickly eating their fill, they were anxious to head back into the forest for a few more hours of fun.
I soon learned that the story behind WOW-Park is as enchanting as the park itself.
It is no secret that the current prevalence of internet, video games, and screens of all sorts have changed the way kids spend their time. Childhood today looks considerably different than it did 50, or even 25, years ago.
With more time spent on screens, kids now-a-days aren’t spending as much time outside playing–the result is that they may not be as in-touch with their bodies and with nature as they could be. Play is important for children’s development, with research indicating that play promotes children’s well-being, cognitive and social skills.
Two brothers, Aage and Jakob Hindhede, remembered growing up in the countryside–playing in the woods, climbing trees, and making rope swings. They wanted their own children to experience that kind of outdoor childhood.
Together, Aage and Jakob founded WOW-Park in the very woods where they played as children when visiting their grandparents. Quite simply, they began with the goal of creating “a great place for their kids to play”– a place that would make their children say “Wow”.
And turns out that a lot of other people in the area also loved the idea of creating a great place for their kids and grand-kids to get outside and play. Hundreds of people from small surrounding communities offered their labor and services to contribute to the park’s construction. They, like the Hindhede brothers, were eager to provide their children with an amazing place to play in nature.
Today, Aage and Jakob joke that they built the park for their own kids, and now they just “invite some extra.” Now, children of all ages can come enjoy nature and movement at WOW-Park.
We can’t all have an idyllic childhood in Denmark’s quaint countryside, but if we can visit WOW-Park, that may be the next best thing :).
As an American in Denmark, when I visit WOW-Park, I can’t help but notice how the park is perfectly aligned with Danish values and offers a quintessentially Danish experience.
Time in Nature
Danes believe strongly in the importance of spending time outdoors and in nature. Camping is a very popular family and vacation activity. Many people also own or rent holiday homes or cottages in rural locations. This provides the opportunity to get away from the city and spend time in nature. (It is not uncommon for the more simple cabins to come without internet or electricity).
Additionally, most of the daycares and schools in Denmark spend a considerable portion of their time outdoors (regardless of the weather). Field trips are routinely taken to forests, lakes, and fjords. It is desired that the children learn to really connect with nature.
WOW-Park’s primary mission is to get people outdoors…and to get them playing and moving. As such, the park provides myriad ways to instigate movement and exercise.
As in most countries, Denmark places a high value on children (and adults) being physically active.
It has been described to me by Danish teachers that, especially in this age of constant technological bombardment, it is important for children to get outdoors and experience how their bodies move. This allows them to develop their sense of balance and their gross motor skills.
Also as mentioned in other posts, the schools here in Denmark devote a considerable amount of time to physical activity. There is triple the recess time, as compared to the U.S. Additionally, there are extra sports classes, and numerous “special” days devoted to activities such as swimming, dance, cycling, and running. Adults in Denmark are also keen on getting exercise, and many people are involved in various sports clubs. (I myself am a member of a “Zumba” club, which, if you know me you know that me doing Zumba is completely ridiculous, but it is fun 🙂 )
*Climbing trees. If you have read my previous posts, you have probably noticed that kids in Denmark do a lot of tree-climbing, and this is actually encouraged by adults–even at school.
Importance of Play
It is generally acknowledged that children receive benefits from being outdoors and being physically active. WOW-Park hopes to provide these benefits through the simplest means possible: play.
The Danes believe in the concept of “learning by playing”. Play is considered the “work of childhood,” and children are allowed lots of unstructured play time at the preschools and daycares. To ensure that children are getting adequate playtime, formal education does not begin until ages 6 or 7. And at that point, the school day is considerably shorter than it is in the U.S. School ends a couple hours earlier in the afternoon than it does in the U.S., but almost all children stay for something called SFO–which translates as “School Free Time.” This is time for kids to hang out at school and simply play with their classmates.
Hygge is another typically Danish concept, which has become a world-wide trend. Although there is no direct translation for this word, “hygge” is achieved by spending cozy time together and by enjoying cozy surroundings. At WOW-Park guests can experience hygge gathered at the picnic tables or indoors in the rustic atmosphere of the cafe.
In WOW-Park, the play structures are made almost entirely of natural materials, harmful pesticides are avoided, and care is given to prevent damage to the trees. As it was put to me, “The tree-houses could be disassembled, and you couldn’t tell that we were even here…” Food provided is typically organic, and local if possible–the emphasis is on quality.
Clearly, Scandinavian countries are known for their “green” ideals and initiatives. (In fact, it is green energy that brought our family to Denmark: my husband, John, works for Vestas, a major wind mill manufacturer.)
Living green is the norm in Denmark, with extensive recycling opportunities and bike friendly cities and roads. In fact, I read recently that a specifically “Green Party” has never gained much traction here in DK, mainly because it goes without saying that all parties and politicians will prioritize “Green” initiatives.
And so, to summarize,
WOW-Park combines many of the Danes’ favorite things, including:
- Elaborate play structures made from wood and rope
- Family fun
- Outdoor activity
- Green mindset
- Focus on nostalgia and tradition
- The opportunity for cooking over the fire
- Play that takes itself seriously