Ready, set, play! Young imaginations will blossom at the Academy’s all-new outdoor playspace that encourages crawling, climbing, and hands-on exploration of natural materials and native plants. 

Unstructured outdoor play isn’t just kids’ stuff—it’s essential for the healthy development of young minds and bodies. As free time increasingly gets replaced by screen time, however, too many kids are missing out on the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of getting their hands dirty.

Wander Woods is a wild antidote to our digital world. Under the gnarled branches of old-growth cypress trees and amid beautiful new native plantings, kids can cavort on giant logs and boulders, meander through tree trunk mazes, navigate wheelchair-accessible paths, and survey the scene from inside a whimsical nest structure. Through outdoor play, fine motor skills, critical thinking, and creativity are strengthened, and lifelong connections to the natural world take root.

Wander Woods is now open daily in the East Garden!

A toddler at play splashes at an outdoor water table in the East Garden

Sensory play

Birds, bugs, dirt, rocks, and trees? Yes, please! Whether it’s splashing at a water table, building a den, or crawling through a log, Wander Woods offers a variety of spaces for kids to activate their senses and investigate the world around them.

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A masked girl stands inside the Nest structure made of interwoven branches in Wander Woods nature playspace at the Academy

Organic architecture

Perched on the hillside is the Nest, the fantastical focal point of Wander Woods. Evoking the complex nests built by bowerbirds and weaverbirds, the structure’s interwoven branches inspire everything from “I spy” to hide-and-seek.

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California pipevine plant

Lush and local

Regenerating the natural world starts right in our backyard. The shrubs, trees, and plants selected for Wander Woods are native to the region and serve to bolster local biodiversity and attract pollinators like hummingbirds and pipevine swallowtail butterflies.

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Gigantic tree stump in Golden Gate Park with a person standing on top

Living lightly

Reducing our environmental impact is integral to all Academy projects. All the wood used for Wander Woods’ play features was salvaged from the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, and the Learning Space structure was built from sustainably sourced redwood. Additionally, the hillside path is made of permeable concrete, helping to reduce runoff and recharge groundwater.

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