JCRA Grows Good Kids!

1977288_10152295674136153_901826189_nChildren in the Arboretum?

Since 2011, children and their families have been able to find programs specifically aimed toward them at the JC Raulston Arboretum.  Children haven’t always been part of the audience attracted to the Arboretum for programming.  They don’t quite fit into a magnolia symposium audience or a workshop on crevice gardening.  Just because an hour long lecture on plant collecting in China doesn’t captive a three year old doesn’t mean horticulture is completely lost on that age group.

The Arboretum’s children’s program has grown leaps and bounds the past 3 years showing that there is a thirst for being outside, learning about plants and our surrounding environment, and making that connection between plants and people.  From 2012 to 2013, there was a 27% increase in participants in the programs offered for children, youth, and their families at the Arboretum.  Those numbers will continue to grow as people continue to find “Raleigh’s best kept secret” and the word gets out.

So, what are these programs attracting children to a garden filled with plants and labels?  There are several different types of programs.  Some are ongoing programs that target specific ages.   “Garden Storytimes” are for preschoolers while “Afternoon Adventures” are for all ages.  “Family Fun” events involve the entire family getting them outdoors and having fun, learning, and exploring together.  This past year with the help of local scout leaders and graduate students from the department, the first scout badge workshops were presented.  Local girl scouts earned their flower, gardener, and tree badges while learning how to prune plants properly, how to arrange cut flowers, and all about xylem, phloem, perfect, and imperfect flowers.  Plans to expand the offerings to include cub scouts, boy scouts, brownies, and all ages of scouts are underway for 2014.  Other groups like Y Guides and Y Princesses visit and experience the gardens to earn the coveted JCRA patches.

Local schools are finding their way to the Arboretum as well.  This past fall, Root Elementary kindergarten class participated in our first public school field trip.  The tour’s success is inspiring the creation of field trips for other grade levels so even more students and teachers have the opportunity to use the gardens as their living classroom and enriching their classroom learning experience.

Local school aged students are getting familiar with the Arboretum this year during the first year of summer camps.  Four different camps will be offered for ages 4 to middle school.  Preschoolers will make friends with various garden critters during their week while middle schoolers become garden photographers during their week in July. Elementary aged students grab a magnifying glass for garden mysteries during “Nature Detectives” in June and learn about gardening while growing food during a week in August.

But why is the Arboretum doing all these programs?  Because children are our future.  They are our future gardeners, future nurserymen and nurserywomen, politicians that will shape our natural environment, plant breeders, plant explorers, and garden center owners and customers.  As a group of educators, industry professionals, and plant and nature lovers, we must share our passion and inspire them to become great horticulturalists!

Elizabeth Overcash, JCRA Children’s Program Coordinator