Public gardens can be wonderlands of ponds, waterfalls and flowerbeds beyond what even the most talented gardeners can create at home. They provide beautiful, calm getaways for the whole family to enjoy. They are also important preserves of nature for apartment dwellers and others who do not have easy access to their own outdoor space. Public gardens can also provide space for active outdoor play. We love rolling down hills in Halifax Public Gardens. Kids can also interact with animals and birds in these little oases in the city.
WHEN YOU'RE THERE
You don't need to just walk around the gardens or sit on a bench like most of visitors you may see around you. Take advantage of the wonder and serenity of public gardens for all kinds of activities.
Pack a picnic - Gardens are wonderful places to gather to eat. Pack a picnic basket or a backpack and head out to share a meal. Don't forget to lay back when you are all filled up and take some time finding shapes in the clouds.
Try on a new identity - The varied landscapes within a public garden can create perfect backdrops for imaginary play. Are you adventurers exploring new frontiers? Fairies amongst the sparkling flowers?
Take a travel break - Sometimes when we are on a family vacation schedules can get hectic. Between checking out the best places for eats, kids attractions and significant sites we may not have much time to just connect as a family and enjoy a slower pace of life. Taking a long interlude in a public garden, rather than just stopping by and looking around briefly, can help return some balance to the travel experience. Take an afternoon to picnic, explore and relax in the garden together. This can be a great time to talk about the highlights of your travels so far and reflect on what you've done together.
Relocate the everyday - Bring a blanket to the gardens along with whatever you were going to be doing today anyway. Bring homework or a journal and spend some time writing in the park. You could pack chess or your family's favourite board game and have a friendly competition amongst the flowers. The garden also makes a great place to stop on the way home from the library and read books.
Check out activities in the gardens - Some gardens may host events and activities appropriate for the whole family. Keep up to date with your community's upcoming events to make sure that you do not miss out on any fun happenings. Other gardens have kids activities and challenges available for visitors anytime. Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island provides seasonal themed scavenger hunts for kids that take you throughout the whole gardens.
Leave room for play and creative exploration, as discussed above, when you visit public gardens. Let kids go where their imaginations are taking them and join in the fun. Find space to run and be active if you are visiting more formal gardens. The beauty and novelty of your surrounding will often draw kids in, so go with and see where it takes you.
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J Muth - This sweet book is full of Haikus that trace the year from fall through summer. Beautiful illustrations follow some kids and their panda bear friend through outdoor adventures in park like settings.
Garden Classroom: Hands On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art by Cathy James - While it is aimed more at a backyard or veggie garden, there are lots of activities in this book that would be a hit in the public garden. While her title does use the word classroom, the activities Cathy lays out wonderful, natural ways to engage with the outdoors. They are fun and not overly teachy.
Audubon Bird Guide North America App - Audubon has a variety of apps that provide high quality information about your natural habitat. This one lets you learn about birds, hear their calls and record your own bird sightings. It also provides guides for new birders on how to identify birds, the rules of birding and how to get quality bird photos with your phone.
Leafsnap App - This might be one of those times when its worth pulling your phone out in the garden. Snap a photo of a leaf and the app will identify the plant for you or browse comprehensive information about different species.
REFLECTING ON EXPERIENCE
If you have a public garden in your community, visit regularly and track the changes over the course of the year. Keep track of what your garden looks like in each season by drawing, journalling, taking photos or collecting artifacts. After you've followed the progress of the garden for a whole year bring together all the evidence you've gathered and witness the transforming of the garden over time.
Become inspired by the beautiful gardens you see. Create a themed area in your yard or garden inspired by a specific country's approach to gardening - be it peaceful Japanese Zen gardens or bright and boisterous English cottage gardens. Learn about what is involved in this style of gardening and let your imagination take you from there. Start small with a little bed and expand the concept if it is working for you. Or add another area in your yard springing from a different culture's practices.