It’s a beautiful day and Wonder Pond in the Children’s Garden is alive with the sounds of kids at play. But the laughter, splashing, and animated conversations between caregivers and children are much more than the noise of fun. They are the sounds of children learning.
Children learn by doing, and by experiencing new things, says Sue Wagner, vice president of education and information services at the Arboretum. Kids who spend time exploring the garden have fun making discoveries about plants and nature. They also leave with a new awareness and curiosity about the natural world.
“The idea behind the Children’s Garden was to create a safe, natural space where kids could have fun using their senses to explore trees, plants, and ecosystems, and take risks in the outdoors in ways that previous generations took for granted," Wagner said. "We had great hopes for the garden before it opened. In reality, it’s been even more successful than we anticipated."
At the heart of the Children’s Garden is Wonder Pond, a living ecosystem where parents and caregivers flock. Here they find birds, frogs, tadpoles, turtles, dragonflies, and ducks, as well as plants that thrive near water, such as grasses, lotus, and a giant willow tree. The entire pond is designed to look as if it resulted from a beaver damming a stream.
Donors to the $63 million Growing Brilliantly campaign are supporting improvements that will make the garden even more welcoming for future visitors when they are complete. The stepping stones area of Wonder Pond is getting a facelift, and when the space reopens around Arbor Day in April of 2018, it will include a new walkway around the pond, with more seating, and shade for children and caregivers.
Improvements will allow more people to experience Wonder Pond at the same time, Wagner says, and for adults to have a more comfortable experience as their children play and explore.
On one side of Wonder Pond are stepping stones, which children navigate in order to get up-close views of tadpoles and other life found in a few inches of water. On the other side is deeper water, providing habitat for frogs, turtles, and plants.
On a summer evening, frogs slide across the surface of the pond until they find comfortable resting places. Visit again in winter and the frogs are nowhere in sight. They are safe deep in the water, where they weather the winter cold by hibernating.
These repeated viewings make the Wonder Pond experience even better, says Lesley Kolaya, manager of youth and family programs at the Arboretum.
“When kids visit the same spaces over and over again during different seasons, they see how things change with time and they learn to become curious observers,” Kolaya says. Hands-on time in the outdoor world also makes it more likely that children will be inspired to care for nature as adults.
Additional enhancements to the Children’s Garden include expansion of the staff and volunteer support building. Its impact will be felt through the high-quality family programming that visitors enjoy in the Children’s Garden during every season.
This story is excerpted from the Fall 2017 edition of Seasons, the quarterly publication for members of The Morton Arboretum.