A three year old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm. ~Bill Vaughan
If you’ve never spent any time in a botanical garden, I urge you to back away from the computer right this moment and go do so. No really, I am not kidding. If you have been to a botanical garden before, I am sure you will join me in urging your fellow readers to unplug and go experience the wonder to be found on the grandest and most colorful of scales in such a garden.
I had the pleasure to attend a symposium — Restoring Nature to Early Childhood — at the amazing Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia for the past day and a half. Made possible through a grant from The Robins Foundation and support from The Center for Life Sciences Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, the event brought together classroom teachers, non-formal educators, daycare providers, and others interested in early childhood education.
Surrounded by dedicated garden staff and speakers from a variety of areas and disciplines, we gathered to not only recognize the need for kids to spend more time outdoors, but to explore this wonderland and share ideas and inspiration. Having been in the business of connecting people with nature for many years, the speakers and their work were very familiar to me. Jane Kirkland, Robin Moore, Akiima Price, and Chip and Ashleigh Donahue shared stories, case studies, research, and their enthusiasm with the crowd. (I have to admit this — I have followed Robin Moore’s work for many years — um, since my tragic-haired college days in urban planning and park design courses, actually. Seeing him is always a treat for me!)
What struck me most about the time together was what went on between the sessions. Teachers sharing ideas and frustrations. Little groups wondering around, taking pictures, laughing, and really taking the time to enjoy what Mother Nature had to offer. I even spotted another woman, who like me, had taken her shoes off on a stunning spring evening and was walking through the soft grass, stealing a few moments alone to recharge and gather her thoughts. It made me smile.
Touring the children’s garden was the highlight for many — such an amazing, playful and thoughtfully designed space. (I defy you to go to a children’s garden and not feel giddy.) Garden educators led activities, and folks were given time to just explore and engage their own awe. I spent time chatting with preschool teachers, one that I had met at a conference in Nebraska last year. At another table, I spent time with a group of Kindergarten teachers. We chatted about how much joy and learning we see when kids are engaged in real play outdoors. There were lots of nodding heads and knowing smiles in that group.
I saw so many people engage their kids at heart during the last two days, and for me, that is the best indicator that this movement to connect children with nature has the chance at great success. Yes, we need research, legislation, and dedicated advocates, but we also need that joy and passion for what it is we are really fighting to restore. If we can keep that ever-present, then we are half-way there in my book.
I left the event knowing that while we indeed have a long way to go, that I have no doubt that we will get there. When given the chance to bloom, every kid and kid at heart will do so. Just step outdoors or into a garden. You’re bound to see it happen if you take a moment to look.
See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru