Step2 Nature Station Playhouse: Might Even Make You Love Bugs

07/14/2009 at 10:30 AM ET

Step2’s new Nature Station Playhouse ($250) takes playing outside to a whole new level. It’s a garden, a laboratory, an observation station and a playhouse all in one. With a periscope that shows kids a view of the trees and landscape from the inside, a microscope (and two very biologically inspiring plastic slides), a planter for growing flowers (or storing explorer gear) and lots of bug collecting and inspecting gadgets (everything from a shovel and tweezers to a butterfly net and lantern).Outfitted with a big plastic green leafy roof and a faux wooden fence, the playhouse opens up the imagination with a sink and faucet, examining table and a round window with a fun plank shutter that makes peek-a-boo inevitable.

The sink and examining table are opposite an open window so lots of good stuff can be passed back and forth at playtime easily. My 1-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter spend a lot of their time passing  leaves, rocks, dirt and the occasional roly-poly through this space, and my daughter uses the sink for her tea set and other kitchen toys.

All the great bug-catching gadgets are perfect for your little entomologist (that’s a big word for an insect scientist) and the open layout makes going in and out of the rounded cutout door part of the fun. I like that the shutter closes evenly against the side of the window so that when my son pokes his head out of it and a sister or pal decides to slam it shut, it doesn’t swing back in at him. This has saved his head on more than one occasion, I’m sure.

The pieces snap together quickly and the sturdy structure is also lightweight so we’re able to move it from the front yard to the back with minimal strain. Next up for the nature station?  Vegetables, planted in the cute yellow window box. Playing outside was never so cool.

Alicia, Austin mom of a blended family of six: a rough-and-tumble 1-year-old boy; a 4-year-old princess-obsessed girl; three teenaged girls and a son heading off to college in the fall, looks for quality gear that makes life easier and ups the family fun quotient

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