Developed for staff, board members, and volunteers from horticultural and public garden organizations

Saturday 19 MARCH 2016 - 9:30am to 5pm

PowellsWood Garden

Federal Way, WA



The program was a collaborative effort lead by Alicia Blood the supervisor of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens youth and Family Education Programs. Also participating were Garret Brendon of the Yakima Area Arboretum; Sarah Heller also of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens; and Emily Bishton, the Nature Director and Lead Educator for the Magnuson Park Community Center.

The morning presentation summarized the educational programs of two institutions and was given by Alicia Blood and Garrett Brendon.

Alicia began by describing the youth programs offered at the U. of W. Botanic Gardens. The programs are undertaken to realize the mission of the Botanic Gardens to sustain natural ecosystems to managed landscapes and the human spirit through plant research, display and education. The goal for the educational programs, in particular, is to provide meaningful educational experiences that enrich participants’ connections with plants and the natural world. The Botanic Garden sponsors the following programs: guided school field trips, family nature classes, summer camp, and the Fiddleheads Forest School (an outdoor preschool). These programs serve 11,030 youth and families and amount to about 40,000 hours of instruction. The vision for all of the various programs is to create an inquisitive, knowledgeable community willing to steward our environment.

The school field trip programs are offered September-June. The school field trips cost each participating child $7.00. The Arboretum staff has worked hard to have these trips affordable so it is common for people to have the cost covered by a “scholarship”. When there is a school that is not able to afford the trip to the arboretum in spite of the scholarships, then if at all possible the staff from the Arboretum will visit the students in their school.

The field trips are guided by Garden Guides most of whom are staff and some of whom are trained arboretum volunteers. The program last about 2 hours. The field trip curriculum is segmented so the it is appropriate to the group that is visiting whether they be from a kindergarten or a junior high-school: Pre-K, K-3rd grade, 3rd-6th grade, and 6-10th grade. There are four curriculum topics offered: plants, forests, wetlands, and peoples relationships with our native plants. (The U of W Botanic Garden website is a good resource for more detailed information: ).

There is in addition an Explorer Pack program appropriate for children in grades K-6. These packs can be used to augment a guided tour or used by a self-supported group. The packs cost $20.00 each to rent for a two hour period and support the activities of up to 15 children. The packs included field guides, scavenger hunt outlines, magnifying lenses, and ideas for activities.

The family nature classes are also 2 hours long and designed for adults with children from ages 2-5 years. They have been running for 5 years. The programs in the mornings both on weekdays and weekends. The Arboretum instructors use 5 stations: a book station, a science station, a sensory station, and art station, and a education station and there are weekly themes. A morning circle is followed by a guided hike with activities, story telling, and snacks. The Family programs have been so popular they run year round with more classes offered in summer than in winter. The cost for two people is $18.00 and if you purchase 6 classes there is a discount.

In spring and summer there are educational family Nature Walks and even night hikes designed for families with kids ages 5-12. They are free but require pre-registration. Once again there are activities for the group that are designed to engage them in fun ways to become aware of the plants, birds, insects, and animals and curious about the natural world surrounding them.

The summer camp program has the greatest number of participants of any of the Youth and Family Programs offered by the arboretum and is expanding as it enters its sixth year, offering 10 weeks of camp. This summer day camp provides an environmental education to children ages 6-12 years old. It costs $260.00 for a week and runs from 9-3PM Monday through Friday and there is financial assistance available. Campers are organized into small field groups based on age; 1st-3rd graders and 4th-6th graders. Each field group is lead by an experienced environment educator assisted by a Jr. Summer Camp Guide. Each week of camp is organized by a theme and the curriculum is age specific grades 1-3 and grades 4-6. The children explore the woodlands in the arboretum, become naturalists, become detectives solving some of the mysteries of the plant or animal world, learn about pond and swamp life, and become ethnobotanists.

The single most engaging educational program for the children who participate, is the Fiddleheads Forest School. It is a 10 month outdoor preschool program (9am-1pm) for potty-trained children ages 3-5 years. There are two outdoor classrooms and there are a total of 49 positions open for the school year Sept.-June. There are three options for attendance: 2 days a week ($3,200.00), 3 days a week ($4,680.00), or 5 days a week ($7,600.00). There is financial assistance available.

The school’s philosophy is to support the growth of the whole child through attention to their social and emotional development, self-regulation and physical development. The curriculum is flexible and weather and the happenings in the natural world around the classroom can determine the course of education in any one day. There are 14 children in a class with 2 lead instructors and 1-2 student interns who work together to implement the nature-based program. Each day play and exploration drive the children’s learning and they acquire social skills and a positive self image, are encouraged to problem solve and ask questions, and are instilled with a respect for and an appreciation of the natural world around them.

According to Alicia the various children’s educational programs support one another, often families who come to the family nature classes are not infrequently those whose children attend the Fiddleheads Forest School. Those that attend the Fiddleheads Forest School also also enjoy the summer camp programs. The staff for the educational programs includes a full time supervisor, 2 full-time teachers, 7 hourly staff for the field trip program, the summer camp staff is 7-8 full time. The summer camp program is the greatest income producer, second to it is the Fiddleheads School, then the field trips program. The goal for the Family Nature Classes is to break even.

The surveys the Arboretum has conducted indicate that the educational outreach is achieving its goal to create a growing community engaged with, passionate, and curious about our natural world.

Garrett introduce the the group to Yakima Area Arboretum and its children’s programs. The arboretum is a living museum with over 1000 specimens of trees, forbs, grasses and shrubs on 46 acres of land managed as collections, display gardens and natural areas. As with the Washington Park Arboretum, the Yakima Area Arboretum’s children’s program emanate from their mission. Their mission is to inspire people of all ages to discover and connect with nature through a diverse collection of trees and shrub hardy to the Inland Northwest.

The arboretum programs for children include: the Nature Day Camp, Field Science Trips, Naturalist Walks and Classes, and events.

The summer camp program , Nature Day Camp, is organized to give an environment education by providing a collaborative learning environment that blends the arts, sciences and playfulness. The program accommodates children in the 1st-9th grades and runs from 9AM-3PM. Participants are grouped by age: 1st-3rd graders, 4-6th graders and 7-9th graders so the curriculum can be age appropriate. The week-long themed summer camp programs begin in late June and end in August. The cost of summer camp is $150.00 per week per camper and includes a t-shiirt and two daily snacks. Financial assistance is available.

The goal is to engage hands, minds, and hearts of the student-campers to create an understanding of local ecology and a thoughtful, environmentally savvy, caring citizenry. Each week there is a theme to which the, lessons, activities and exploration is keyed and some of these themes are: Art and Nature; Water World; Leap Slither and Crawl, and Team Building and Leadership. Some themes are limited to a narrower age range than others. Each day’s curriculum is variable and depends on what is discovered in the garden that day and how the children participating respond to events. Time fro reflection and for sef-directed activities are a part of the program.

The annual Arbor Day event offers the largest single opportunity for educational outreach to children because it is the event with the greatest attendance at the Arboretum each year. Many children’s educational activities are included, thus it has engaged the most children each year. Very popular is a photographic scavenger hunt in which children and their families search for various clues that engage them in learning about the plants and animals found in the arboretum. They capture what they find using photographs.

School Field and Science Trips are another part of the educational program. The field trips entail “Ecosystem Investigations” and are the most structured of any of the programs. They comply with Next Generation Science Standards and, thus, fit with school curriculum. The field trips are designed to provide relevant, interactive, outdoor educational opportunities for elementary school students, though they can be adapted for younger or older students. The arboretum works with teachers to adapt the field trip programs to their curriculum needs. This program is offered free of charge.

Naturalists Walks and Classes are open to adults and children and cover a wide range of topics and are adapted to suit the participants needs. The walks are lead by enthusiasts and professionals and may be free or have a small fee.

Self-Guided activities are also supported with materials available to families in the Gift Shop at the Arboretum. There is information and supplies for birding, letter boxing, geocaching, and seasonally defined activities available to visiting families. (Letter boxing is similar to geocaching please see the website: )

Educational programs offered by the Arboretum have been very popular in the Yakima community and enhanced community involvement with the arboretum. The participation of so many children in programs that enhance their environmental awareness and engagement with their natural world means that the Arboretum is achieving its mission.

As children’s outdoor educational programs grow and unstructured improvisational educational approaches become more valued, learning programs in garden settings will become more and more in demand. This trend will bring increased demand for outdoor programs to be integrated with and accredited by our traditional educational institutions. The initiative for this has already been taken by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, the Magnuson Community Park Nature Programs and the Yakima Area Arboretum, and it will be carried further. The U. of W. field trips comply with the Washington State Learning Standards. The field trips at the Yakima Area Arboretum and the Magnuson Park Nature Program are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards. (see link below)

As the demand for outdoor educational programs grows the need for funding and staffing will continue to grow and challenge those who will be developing the programs. In gardens the increased use of the facilities for children’s education will necessitate even more negotiation between the horticultural and educational staff regarding the care of the plant collections and plantings while accommodating the activities of children exploring the gardens to experience their natural wonders. Additionally there can be tugs over allocation of resources. Does funding go for facilities to support education or the care and building of gardens and collections.

Garrett and Alicia suggested the following websites as excellent resources for those interested in setting up or re-evaluating their children’s educational programing:

The late morning break out groups considered three topics: starting a program, barriers and challenges often met in managing a children’s educational program, and finally how to reach different age groups. Some of the take away comments were: when starting a program pursue collaborative programing, keep programing simple and fun (children love scavenger hunts); some barriers and challenges experienced are liability insurance, the cost of the programs relative to the ability of people to pay enough to have the program break even; background checks on those involved with the program both staff and volunteers; legal forms required for your programs; the organization complexity that can attend handling school field trips; staying attuned to what curriculum most captivates teach age group.

The afternoon panel-program included discussions with Emily Bishton and Sara Heller. They both honed the discussion more toward the nitty gritty of the educational process as you work with children in a garden

Emily Bishton shared her experience as the Magnuson Community Center Nature Programs Director and Lead Educator. Her classroom is the Magnuson Park Community Garden which includes a p-patch, a demonstration orchard, a children’s garden, the tranquil garden, an amphitheater, a native plant border, and a nearby 20 acres of wetland. Her Children’s Garden Nature Programs include many Family Days , a summer camp program, field trips and nature walks, classes, and events, including the very popular annual Scarecrow Festival. These programs are run by the 19 volunteer docents, the Magnuson Nature docents who volunteer 443 hours for the programs. Their website is a good resource and gives you information on the scope of their programing:

The interaction with children is patterned to some degree in parallel with the way the Children’s Garden was originally designed, the activity was community centered and the ideas for the what the garden would hold came from the children as much as the adults. It was the children who requested roses, a butterfly garden, a rolling lawn, and a spiral path, and a pile of wood, and a fork sculpture to climb on at the junction of two paths. In the classes the staff strives to provide a welcoming, caring, and open atmosphere for learning, where each child is encouraged to actively participate. When children are introduced to the gardens they learn how to walk in densely planted areas by watching how their feet move and discussion in which they participate. The children can drive the curriculum because discussion is lead by what they discover when they are looking for birds, hunting in the wood pile, or searching for a flower. The instructors attempt to inspire and appreciate curiosity in their students, using curriculum that builds from, and expands, each child’s natural curiosity and creative thinking. Exploration and discover are followed by questions comparisons and discussion. Multiple avenues for experiential learning and reflecting are incorporated in to the educational process so that visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners can all enjoy success. In all the programs there are times when not one is asked to do anything, each student does what they want. There are also “quiet times” so students can have time to reflect on whatever they want or do something else quietly. Snacks are integrated into most every educational program: food enables concentration, curiosity and cognition.

Sara Heller, Fiddleheads Forest School Coordinator, is the person who created the Fiddlehead Forest school. Her overarching goal has been to integrate the botanic garden into the community, or to put it another way, to build community. She has used children’s education as one of her main tools to build community. She built the the family nature classes, has grown the summer camp program, worked to expand the field trip program, and finally creating the Fiddlehead School.

As has been mentioned, at this preschool the children spend 4 hours a day in all forms of weather outside in or wandering in the arboretum not too far from their classroom (located the native matrix portion of the arboretum). The weather itself helps with this eduction. The days routine includes specific activities at specific places, group discussions, exploration, snacks. While the goals for things to be learned are consistent, the curriculum for and day can vary with the weather, what is found while exploring, and what the students are able to absorb. The student to teacher ratio is low and this enables safe and optimum opportunities to learn important life skills and understandings. Please see the website for a list of capacities and understandings the program seeks to have realized in all its students:


The GCNN website: Ben Streissguth and Pamela Governale are collaborating on a revision of the GCNN website. The Garden Conservancy has redone their website and would like the look of the new GCNN website to have visual compatibility with the new Garden Conservancy look. The new website will have a new underlying code, Ruby on Rails. This code will allow well for a database structure for the website which in turn makes the website much easier to manage.

The Passport Brochure: The brochure has been distributed and those who worked so hard to create it would love to have feedback on how you all are using it and any comments you have on i


There have been some changes in the structure of communications between the GCNN and the Garden Conservancy. David Seyms now is the Associate Director of Education and located in the Garden Conservancy’s San Francisco office is the person which whom we work most directly. Pamela Governale is now Director of Preservation.

The dues for annual membership in the GCNN will be increased from $100.00 to $125.00 in 2017. There will also be a trial membership who is $75.00 annually. A trial membership gives your organization a live link on the non-member page of the website and a mention on the inside map of the Passport Brochure. The trial membership is limited to two years.

The Bellevue Botanical Garden Society will be hiring a new staff person, the Society Manager. Please follow the link to the job description:


The workshop for fall of 2016 will be in Oregon location and topic TBA

The Spring 2017 workshop will be In SeaTac and the topic will be Grant Writing.


Last update: 18 February, 2018