“Go outside and play!” This sentiment is often at odds with our tech-heavy culture, especially in the Bay Area. To encourage kids to put down their devices and engage with the outdoors, the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose recently doubled its exhibit space to add a new outdoor exhibit, Bill’s Backyard: Bridge to Nature, and it’s the tree house and dig pit of our childhood dreams. Every detail was meticulously planned from the living roof on the junior ranger station to the life-sized bronze animals hidden throughout the exhibit. Check out all these amazing features and plan your visit ASAP!

The Forest

As soon as you step outside the purple walls of the Children’s Discovery Museum you will be in awe of all that Bill’s Backyard has to offer. Named after retired Agilent Technologies CEO and museum board member Bill Sullivan, the 27,500 sq. ft. exhibit space provides unlimited opportunities for unstructured play as well as a large outdoor classroom for facilitated activities and nature investigations. A 7,200 gallon rain-harvest system is in place to irrigate the native landscape and teach kids about water conservation at the same time.

A goal of Bill’s Backyard is that it will help to reverse the trends of “nature deficit disorder” that is so prevalent among kids, especially in an urban environment like San Jose. By bringing nature to the kids, the museum hopes that this will create a spark so that children will then seek out other outdoor opportunities when they go home to their communities. The kids of today are the environmental stewards of tomorrow and what better way to create an interest in nature and our planet than through an awesome outdoor play area.

The Trees

Ten exhibit features were designed to get kids to explore and create (and maybe get a little dirty, too!). From the junior ranger station that offers maps, fossils and touchable animal skeletons to the fort building area, kids are only limited by their own creativity.

photo: Kate Loweth

The lookout tower and tunnel provide an area for kids to change their perspective and slide down the concrete slides or roll down the hill. In the tree climber, little explorers can make their way across the rope bridge or hide in the caves in the base of the trees.

photo: Kate Loweth

Explore the drought-tolerant garden and see if you can find where the nature fairies might live. Don’t miss the tree of 40 fruits – an amazing intersection of science and art where 40 different local stone fruit varieties were grafted on to one tree by Artist Sam Van Aken.

Photo: Kate Loweth

The Roots

The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose is easy to spot from 280 and CA-87 – just look for the purple building with the giant rubber ducky on its roof. There’s a parking lot right across the street from the museum on Woz Way or you can take light rail on the Alum Rock-Santa Teresa line to the Discovery Museum station. Admission to Bill’s Backyard: Bridge to Nature is included with your museum admission.

Hours: Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sun., noon-5 p.m. (opens at 11 a.m. on Sunday for members)
Cost: $15/adults and kids, $14/seniors, under 1 are free
Location: Children’s Discovery Museum, 180 Woz Way, San Jose, CA

Have you played in Bill’s Backyard? Let us know your favorite feature below!

— Kate Loweth

Photos courtesy of the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose except where noted.

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