Garden Exploring

Garden Exploring

Building kids’ confidence in the outdoors

By Christie Collins

We have a lot of exciting things happening at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden on Museum Hill this year. We’ve returned to much of the programming that was offered before COVID, and we are thrilled to be introducing many new activities.

As someone with a background in outdoor education, I love getting all ages outside in nature. Research shows that it’s important and beneficial to start teaching outdoor skills and how to enjoy spending time in nature at an early age.

New this year: Garden Explorer Summer Camp

This is a new program for the Garden that I’m excited about. I have been involved in teaching and directing summer camps throughout my career. I feel it is a program that is essential for all organizations that teach nature and environmental stewardship.

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Our Garden Explorer Summer Camp offers a unique experience, designed for children ages 6 to 15, combining outdoor education, plant identification, hiking, and practical skills like map reading and compass use, all aimed at instilling a deep appreciation for the natural world.

Our mission for this summer camp is to forge a strong connection with nature, which is essential for the well-being and development of children. Each day, campers are immersed in the diverse ecosystems surrounding the garden, engaging in activities that foster a sense of wonder and respect for the environment.

Being a unique Botanical Garden due to our location, one of the key components of our camp is plant identification. Experienced educators guide the children through the garden’s diverse cultivated and native flora, teaching them to recognize various species, understand their ecological roles, and appreciate their beauty. This hands-on approach not only educates but can inspire a lifelong interest in botany and conservation.

Campers learn about bugs!

Campers learn about bugs!

Hiking is another cornerstone of the camp experience. Trails winding through the garden and its surrounding areas offer perfect opportunities for exploration and adventure. Along these trails and arroyos, campers learn to study the landscape, observing how different plants and animals interact within their habitats.

One of the most exciting aspects of the camp is learning about tracks and scat. These activities turn every walk into a detective adventure, as campers learn to identify the signs left by different animals. This not only teaches wildlife identification skills but also informs important lessons about the local ecosystem and the creatures that inhabit it.

In an age dominated by digital technology, teaching traditional navigational skills like map reading and compass use is both novel and essential. These skills empower campers, boosting their confidence and independence while ensuring they feel comfortable and safe in natural settings.

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Perhaps the most significant outcome of the camp is the way it helps children feel confident and comfortable in nature. By the end of the program, campers will not only learn about the environment but will also develop a sense of stewardship and responsibility towards it. The impact of this summer camp extends beyond the individual experiences of the campers. By fostering a generation of environmentally conscious individuals, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden is contributing to the broader community’s sense of awareness and engagement in environmental issues.

Our hope for the children who attend our camp this summer is to inspire a lifelong journey of environmental exploration, appreciation, and stewardship. The skills, knowledge, and passions cultivated during camp can positively continue to influence their choices and actions long after the summer ends.

Another new aspect that we are very excited about is the future addition of our Children’s Discovery Garden. This new area is in the very early stages of planning, and we feel this space will not only enhance the botanical garden’s appeal to a broader audience, including families with children, but it will also serve as an educational and engaging setting where children can learn about nature, science, and the environment through play and exploration.

Orchard Garden

Orchard Garden

With our goals dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation of nature among younger visitors, here are some of the features our visitors can look forward to in the Children’s Discovery Garden.

Interactive Learning: These include hands-on experiences for children to engage directly with the natural world. Examples could involve interactive exhibits to learn about plant life cycles, ecology, and the importance of biodiversity.

Unstructured Play: This is crucial for cognitive and social development. The garden will provide a space for children to use their imagination and creativity while interacting with natural elements. This also includes natural play structures made from wood or stone.

Educational Programs: These are designed for children and their families. Examples include guided tours, workshops on gardening and plant care, insect life cycles, bird watching, the importance of pollinators, along with other science-related activities.

Sensory Experiences: Designed to stimulate all the senses, with colorful plants, various textures of plants and materials, fragrant herbs, and the sounds of nature, contributing to a full sensory experience.

Water Feature: Children can learn about water conservation focusing on the best practices for a warmer and drier climate.

Conservation Awareness and Eco-Friendly Practices: Designed to teach children from an early age about composting, recycling, and sustainable gardening practices.

Community Connection: The Garden will serve as a community hub, where local schools and groups can come together to learn about and appreciate the natural world.

Wildlife Observation: Areas will include bird feeders, butterfly gardens, and small habitats where children can observe and learn about local wildlife.

Technology Integration: This includes interactive apps and QR codes that provide information about the plants and activities in the garden, making learning fun and modern.

Families enjoying an Arts Alive! activity making seed balls.

Families enjoying an Arts Alive! activity making seed balls.

Overall, the addition of the Children’s Discovery Garden is an investment in the future, aiming to inspire the next generation of scientists, ecologists, and nature enthusiasts. The key to a successful Children’s Discovery Garden will be to create a balance between structured educational activities and unstructured play, allowing children the freedom to explore and interact with nature in their own way.

There are many more fun and educational programs throughout the year, like our annual Egg Hunt, Arts Alive!, Nighttime Mothing, and our famous Pumpkin Carving Contest, just to name a few. All our programs focus on nurturing a deep, and enduring connection between children and the natural world—an important connection that promises to enrich their lives and guide them in the years to come.

Christie Collins is the director of education and interpretation at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. She has a BS in business and biology and an MS in parks, recreation, and tourism management with an emphasis on park and conservation area management. During her more than 15-year career, her passion and focus have been on outdoor education and conservation for all ages.

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