Dotson Back 40

Nature is a child’s first playground

Dotson Back 40 at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato

Fenced-in Freedom

The Dotson Back 40 beckons children to romp in its green space. All the elements for nature play are here: tree stumps and hollows, arching branches, water to pump, boulders, knolls to climb and roll down. This area is rich with sticks and burlap, stones and buckets, leaves and logs that inspire building and design, investigating, and storytelling. With edible plants growing throughout, water produced by children activating a hand pump, sand, dirt, and mud if you choose, the Dotson Back 40 offers fenced-in freedom for the whole family.

This exhibit is great for...

exploration and freedom in grassy spaces and outdoor places.

Water Play

Building in nature requires water and, in Dotson Back 40, children will provide the energy required to supply the water for their activities with a hand pump. They can take turns pumping until water trickles down a pebble-lined channel, where it pools, captures the sparkling sunlight, and brightens the color of pebbles. Using scoops, pails, and bamboo pipes, children can engineer the flow to the adjacent rock area, where it provides enough water for dams or potions. A large sun shade provides respite for children and caregivers on our hottest summer days.

Nature Exploration

Digging is essential in children's outdoor play. With trowels, rakes, shovels, and tractors children learn to use tools as they move dirt from one spot to another, shaping and reshaping their world. Off the beaten path, they can lay down, stand up high, or roll sideways over and over while siblings or friends clamber up and across and sit on fallen logs. Children can work together to cover or wrap their structures to build a fort atop the large boulder, a perfect place for storytelling.

Marvelous Mud

Mud is sometimes messy, but always marvelous! The open-ended nature of mud and loose parts encourages creative thinking as children sculpt and mold differently than with playdough or clay. Social skills are built during this rich sensory play in which children negotiate, share, and communicate about the ownership of a mixing bowl or placement of sand sprinkles for their mud muffin. STEAM skills emerge as children make before and after comparisons, measure, and count ingredients for their mud pie recipes. In addition to cooking with mud, children will have access to other bits and pieces of nature like pinecones, acorns, dried flowers and herbs. The Museum has a supply of mud shirts for visitor use, and nearby sinks for cleanup. Which nature kitchen recipe will you try?

Harvesting potatoes in the garden beds at the Childrens Museum of Southern Minnesota

CMSM Gardens

The Dotson Back 40 is filled with beautiful gardens for children and caregivers to get hands-on and enjoy. Some featured garden beds have eatable fruits and vegetables where others have pollinator plants that host our caterpillars and butterflies!

The Three Sisters Garden relies on natural relationships between crops to help each other grow and flourish. The different seeds are all planted together in the same mound.

Gardens Sponsored By:  Crystal Valley Coop