Whether you are a Michigander or not, you are almost certainly aware that Michigan State University is one of the mitten’s most recognized institutions for higher education. What you may not know, however, is that MSU is fostering the development of young minds long before they enroll in classes. If you are driving through South Campus any time between April and October, you’re bound to see plenty of future Spartans exploring the university’s beautiful 4-H Children’s Garden.
As the nation’s pioneer land-grant university, MSU (originally called Michigan
Agricultural College) was charged with a mission of teaching and researching all branches of agriculture. It was Jane Taylor who first conceived the 4-H Children’s Garden as a way of educating Michigan’s youth on the role plants play in their daily lives.
Thus, Taylor researched and surveyed children in order to design an environment that would nurture a curiosity and delight in world the around them. After six years of work, the privately funded 4-H Children’s Garden opened in 1993 as the true embodiment of the 4-H philosophy of learning by doing.
Divided into 60 different theme areas, the outdoor garden could keep a person of any age occupied far past its dawn to dusk hours. Walking through the Pond Area, children can stroll across the Monet Bridge (a replica of the bridge in Monet’s native Giverny, France) while examining plants grown from seeds from his own garden.
A short walk to the Maze Area could turn into a much longer adventure through the Alice in Wonderland Maze before coming out into the Sundial Garden to watch different plants open and close at different times on the dial.
And of course, a visit wouldn’t be complete without wandering through the Chimes Area to see and hear the trains go past or compose a melody on the dance chimes.
The garden has been such a success that it has not only won numerous awards and served as a prototype for gardens across the United States, Canada and Britain, but the number of children attending public outreach programs there rose past 10,000 in 2009 and continues to grow.
In addition to the outdoor garden, there are also the indoor gardens and the Pete and Sally Smith Schoolyard Demonstration Garden, featuring a total 33 additional theme areas.
So parents, bring your child to the indoor garden’s beautiful Butterfly Habitat and watch butterflies emerging from the chrysalis.
Teachers, come and lead your students on a field trip, possibly even using the QR codes with a smartphone or iPad to educate students with an even more interactive experience.
And children (or just children at heart), indulge your every curiosity exploring these marvelous gardens.
As a child who would stroll the gardens with my grandmother and sisters, admiring the colors and vast expanse of intriguingly unknown plant life, and as an adult who still visits the gardens often, I can assure you the wonder and excitement never truly ends.
~ Hayley Serr, Feature Writer