August 26, 2015

Children benefit from gardening experiences

Children benefit from gardening experiences
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By The West View

Thom Benedict of Red Butte Garden describes the learning environment of their summer camps and field trips as “a launch pad for learning." Benedict says that nature-based education is essential for kids, and that we are disabling our kids by over-scheduling them. The education philosophy at Red Butte is Inquiry Based Learning, letting the children learn through nature by not providing the "right answer," but by encouraging students to think for themselves and ask questions which are then connected to the curriculum. Thousands of kids visit these programs every year, and about 3,000 of them live on the west side of Salt Lake City.

In this unrestricted environment, kids from age 3 and up learn about plant life cycles, pollinators, producers / consumers, living / non-living things, biomes, habitats, and classification of living things. But that is not all they are learning. Researchers at Red Butte Garden are very interested in the emotional and cognitive response in our brain. They know that it makes us happy, calm, and connected, but they want to know why. On your next walk around the gardens you might run into patrons with some interesting headgear, which researchers use to measure the cognitive response when interacting with nature. 

Bill Stadwiser at Wasatch Community Gardens (WCG) sees this phenomenon daily with the kids that come to the WCG’s Fair Park and Grateful Tomato Gardens. He tells a story of a child with autism who walked around the garden absorbing every possible experience the garden could offer. Stadwiser says he could just see how much the boy needed the experience, and he noticed things that others had not. He drank in the experience of the garden almost faster than the adults could keep up. "He needed that, probably more than he even understood, but he really needed that."

According to a recent article in the US National Journal of Medicine, despite the obesity epidemic, our children are malnourished due to lack of fresh real food. "When kids participate in any part of the process from growing, harvesting, or preparing food they are more likely to eat it and other healthy food in the future," said Stadwiser of WCG.

City Roots is a program that brings children to WCG gardens for 1-2 hour sessions where they have skill-based training through experiential learning, similar to the program at Red Butte. The adults follow the same rules as the kids and learn along with them. The most important rules of the garden are to explore, experiment and of course, have fun.

A similar program has been started at the Community Learning Center (CLC), housed between Glendale Middle School and Mountain View Elementary. A new garden is growing with the hope to provide a place where community can learn, grow, and connect. The CLC garden has 30 garden boxes, half for community and half for education. As summer school began in June the children filled the garden.  Teachers led classes on topics such as seeds, plant identification, nutrition, as well as environmental and social justice. 

The CLC garden is open to community members for a nominal fee of $10/year and is available for the use of teachers at both Mountain View and Glendale. Contact the coordinator for more info at . WCG and Red Butte Garden offer scholarships to their summer camps and free field trips. If you want your children to get a space in the camps you've got to sign up early. 

Most of the camps for this year are full, but don't let that stop you. Red Butte is open 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily and kids are guaranteed to enjoy a day splashing in the fountain, exploring the snake maze, and taking a rest inside the vine house located in the Children’s Garden. At WCG, you can attend the wonderful Tomato Sandwich Party at the Grateful Tomato Garden on September 12.  More information can be found at and