Kathryn K. Fontenot
The LSU AgCenter and East Baton Rouge Master Gardener Association have partnered to host a series of garden workshops for children at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden, which began in 2016.
Activity themes for the Children’s Garden Series are chosen to present gardening activities without making the 6- to 10-year-old participants feel they are participating in yard work or stuck in a classroom. The goal of this series is to engage young children in gardening so they enjoy being outdoors, develop an appreciation for nature and learn horticulture concepts.
Each activity begins by asking participants a simple yes or no question about the topic of the day. Information is presented on the topic, and then children create a garden, plant or construct something garden-centric and use the grounds of the Botanic Gardens to explore the topic. Participants are provided snacks and drinks and end each activity with the same yes or no question to determine if they understand the basic concept being taught. For each of the first six workshops, an average of 40 percent of children knew the correct answer at the beginning of the activity and a minimum of 90 percent of children raised their hand for the correct answer at the end each workshop.
Themes for 2016 included: Creating Fairy Gardens, How Are Frogs and Toads Important in the Garden? Making Your Own Terrarium, and Where in the World Do Vegetables Come From? The themes for 2017 included Attracting Native Song Birds to the Backyard, Vermicomposting, Do You Know Your Fruits and Veggies? Buzzing Through the Garden with Bees, the Importance of Native Trees, and Raising Backyard Chickens. For 2018, participants have requested lots of butterfly activities, so the committee is preparing to flutter through the garden in 2018.
Some of the workshops that have been held include:
Fairy Gardens: Children are encouraged to create small garden spaces where mystical fairy figures can visit day or night. This requires well-kept plants that are properly watered, fertilized and managed for insects. Proper plant care is essential because fairies require plants for cover.
Each child is given a large basket, soil, plants and tiny furniture and glass stones to create their very own fairy take-home garden. Participants visit the Children’s Garden to examine a large fairy garden and look for treasures to add to their own take-home gardens.
Terrariums: Did you know terrariums were first discovered because a fern easily grew under a glass jar amidst lots of air pollution? Not long after the discovery, some terrariums became known as Wardian cases, named after the inventor Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward, and served as suitcases to transport plants on long journeys across the ocean. In the terrarium workshop, children learn about the uses of a terrarium and create one for their homes. They explore the gardens to discover special rocks, twigs, shells and other items to personalize each terrarium. Children were taught how to maintain plants and pot up or propagate new plants.
Frogs and Toads: Throughout the lesson, children learn the physical differences in frogs and toads, why they benefit people in the garden (eat pesky insects) and what important features are needed to attract frogs and toads into a garden. Children learn the differences between submergent, emergent and floating aquatic plants and how to care for these plants. They also learn about invasive aquatic plants and how they can harm the environment. Children create individual miniature frog gardens to take home. The children and their parents explore the Barton Arboretum and Black Water Swamp and look for frogs and toads, find tadpoles and learn about a frog and toad habitat.
Where in the World Do Vegetables Come From? Children study maps and learn where fresh fruit and vegetable snacks originated, which in some cases was not the United States. Children are given fresh food to create “veggie people” using eggplants, squash and peppers as bodies, peas as eyes and carrot slivers as noses. As the children put together their veggie people, they recounted where each vegetable originated. Afterwards, children plant various vegetables and seeds into the Children’s Garden and take home their veggie people and extra plants and seeds for their own garden.
Attracting Native Song Birds to the Garden: Participants observed pictures of Southeastern United States native birds and listened to the differences in their chirps. All the while, Master Gardeners showcased plants that would attract those birds to their yards. Children planted native wildflower seed into pots for their homes and painted dried gourds to hang as bird houses. Birds, like people, need shelter, food (seeds from plants, worms and insects from our gardens) and water. Caring for the plants so that beneficial insects are not disturbed was a running theme throughout the lesson.
Vermicomposting: What is better than holding wiggly wet slimy worms? Not much, unless you build a special compost bin to bring home and keep the worms as pets. Children learned worm anatomy. They also were taught how to care for the worms, such as dietary do’s and don’ts, and how to make a cozy living space that is not too hot nor too cold and has the proper amount of bedding. Children made compost bins and filled them with living worms. Then they went to the garden to play a game of camouflaged worms. Participant were assigned to groups, which were given bird names, and worked together to find fake worms hidden throughout the space. Many of the brightly colored worms were found, but not the brown ones. They learned blending into the environment can sometimes be a good thing.
While organizers are pleased that basic concepts are taught and understood by the children, they are also excited to see smiling young faces as they explore the garden. The Children’s Garden at Burden is free for anyone to enter and use. The garden is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entrance to the Children’s Garden is planted with pollinator plants specific to butterflies, and the back portion is planted with fruit and vegetable crops. Visitors are encouraged to take home produce when it’s ready for harvest. Children will often leave one of the workshops toting vegetables home.
Reservations for the Children’s Garden Series are required in advance. The $15 charge per child helps support the series. Parents and grandparents bring children to these events held on select Saturday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m. The adults are often as excited as children to participate.
More information about the Children’s Garden Series can be found at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden website.
Kathryn K. Fontenot is an extension horticulturist and an assistant professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences.
Cullen Curole, 8, waters sweet potato transplants that he and other children planted during a session of the LSU AgCenter Children’s Garden program on May 20. Participants planted the sweet potatoes as part of a lesson on knowing your fruits and vegetables. Photo by Rick Bogren
Master Gardener volunteer Angie Wall, back to camera, instructs children as they plant sweet potato transplants in a raised garden table during a session of the AgCenter Children’s Garden program on May 20 at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden. As the participants planted the sweet potatoes, they were told they could return to the garden later in the year and harvest their produce. Photo by Rick Bogren