In Battle Creek’s Leila Arboretum, behind a tall wooden fence, one-acre is devoted exclusively to young children. Katy Avery is the Education Manager at Leila Arboretum Society. The Children’s Garden features many small theme gardens.
“We have a pizza garden, which grows basil and onion and tomato in there," says Katy Avery, Education Manager at Leila Arboretum Society. "We have a salad bowl, which is a great big bowl-shaped planter with a very large fork and spoon in the center of it. We grow lettuce and carrots and things like that in there. So that the kids are having that connection to not just their food; but, seeing how plants affect their every day lives. So, we have a rainbow garden; so, we show the different colors and an alphabet garden where we have a plant with every letter of the alphabet. Every part of our garden is meant to be learning.”
Jackie Pyle is a pre-school teacher in the ‘Threes’ classroom at S.N.A.P. Preschool.
“A lot of the kids may not have the experience to get out, whether it be out-of-doors or just to experience new things," Pyle says. "The garden is free to come to.” She adds, “We’ve been here a number of times and there’s things that I just noticed today that I hadn’t noticed before; so, if I’m noticing things new and different, I’m pretty sure they will, too.”
LaNiyah Graham, who is four-years-old, says she expected to see dinosaurs in the garden, and she was right. There were dinosaurs—small replicas. The theme of the event that day was discovering dinosaurs.
“We’re working more and more with Kingman Museum who’s also on the Leila Arboretum Campus," says Avery. "Kingman Museum is a small natural history museum and they’ve got a number of fossils. A lot of fossils are actually on loan for the day from them.”
Volunteer Laurel Robertson explained dinosaur fossils to the children. She has several duties at the garden.
“I’m the worm mom, who feeds the worms and talks about worms when we have a worm program. I have a fairy garden. I keep the fairy garden up. And, then at Halloween time, I’m the Fairy Godmother,” Robertson says. “And then, I hand out pumpkin seeds, so they can grow pumpkins.”
Three-year-old Wren McNearney says she's pleased to have found many dinosaurs on her hunt in the garden. Volunteer Sandra Parks says the garden has gone through quite a few changes.
“I’ve been here since it opened in 2003. So, I’ve seen a lot of changes," Parks says. "When we first opened, you could look from the front all the way to the back. And, now you can’t even see past the first garden. It’s grown that much since 2003.”
Three-year-old Genesis Mouton’s father, Frederick explains why the garden is good for kids.
“I think it’s good for kids to see new things. Just explore what’s in the world. To learn about the world we live in,” Mouton says. “Just like with life. As you evolve as a person and you learn new things, the things that you remember become a part of you, as you grow up with it. So, we’re definitely going to bring him here every year. The seed is planted. And, his curiosity is just going to grow.”
“I get feedback sometimes,” Avery says, “that kids want to plant a garden when they leave here, which is so rewarding and such a positive reinforcement that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. Getting kids to care about the world around them, having these positive memories will mean that in the future they are going to be stewards for our planet.”
Leila Arboretum’s Children’s Garden is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April through October.