Feb 23rd, 2010

Young Buds Program Brings Children to Nature

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

The other day, I was walking through the Garden and I saw the longest, cutest, snake of a line of children who were wide eyed as they followed Krissi, one of our educators, through the Garden. The Garden wasn’t in full bloom of course, it is the middle of winter.  But there is still plenty to see at the Garden, and the children were certainly taking it all in. As I looked down at their name tags, I realized that these children were from a Head Start program in one of Richmond’s tougher neighborhoods.  Before I worked here at the Garden, I knew that the Garden offered field trips to kids, but I had no idea the scope and the depth of their programs and that they serve so many of Richmond’s poorest children.  Lewis Ginter serves hundreds of under-privileged children in the Richmond area. Last year,  Lewis Ginter’s Young Buds program, for 3- to 5-year-olds  served 2,137 preschoolers. Half of those were on scholarship.

But  what’s even more important is the impact that these field trips have. Many of these children come from neighborhoods without gardens, and sometimes without yards. Often, even trees for climbing are scarce or non-existent.  So the wide-eyed excitement that I mentioned, was likely due to not having seen  a place so fully filled with trees, birds, plants and other living things.

Educator Krissi, explains:

Many of these students come to us from very urban environments or very rural environments and they vary in their comfort and interest in nature.  What I have observed from the students living in urban areas are many children who are uncomfortable about sitting on the grass, touching dirt, and being very scared of every insect we come across.  However, very often we will see something as simple as a squirrel scamper across our path, a robin land on a branch with a worm in its mouth, or a butterfly flit by and they get visibly excited.  These are things they likely have seen before however being in an environment where we are moving slowly and watching for things to happen around us, they perceive these everyday happenings in a different way – in an exciting and amazing way.  For some of the students coming to us from more rural environments, many children seem to be a little more comfortable in comparison about being outside, however they too are also amazed when we take time to watch a honey bee collect nectar, sit on the sidewalk to observe the blossom of a pansy up close, or hold a composting red wriggler worm.  What I have observed is that the greatest impact on these kids is about taking the time to do the simple things.  These are the things we hear older folks talk about doing all the time when they were children – running through mud puddles, digging up worms, picking flowers, and catching tadpoles.  These days children don’t have the time or freedom to take advantage of these simple pleasures in life and at the Garden, albeit in a mere hour, we give that to the students and they savor that time to the fullest!

So you can see this is a very important program.

My husband has worked with many of these children as a Head Start Specialist for Richmond Public Schools. And last year as a Head Start teacher, he brought his class to Lewis Ginter for the Young Buds program. I  remember watching the childrens’ complete and utter excitement at virtually everything they saw and touched.  Weeks after the field trip, he was still talking about it when the class  read a book about a bird’s nest, they excitedly exclaimed how they had seen one of those at Lewis Ginter.  They had read this book before, but for the first time, they were able to identify with what the book was talking about, and that changed their learning. I never thought about it this way before, but he’s right, how could you enjoy reading about a birds nest in a book, when you really have no idea exactly what a birds nest is?

In fact, it was a symposium here at Lewis Ginter, that inspired him to write a blog post about the value that field trips like this have to his young preschool students.   It’s an incredibly moving post, and well worth the read. I’ll give you a taste, but only because no one else can explain the value of a “nature” field trip like the teacher of inner city pre-schoolers:

I believe it is these field trips that make the difference between passing a third grade test or failing life. Field trips are about possibility, knowing what is beyond that cracker box house and chain link fence. Field trips are about experiencing the wider world.

And in these economic times, more than ever, we appreciate the support of the organizations that make the Young Buds program possible including The Community Foundation serving  Richmond & Central Virginia, The Gwathmey Memorial Trust and The Memorial Foundation for Children.


Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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