What is the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom?

By Ashley Stephens

The main focus of the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom is to offer children and adults the opportunity to connect with and learn about gardening, nature, and sustainability. The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom offers ongoing gardening and outdoor classes for children, workshops for adults, and community events.

I started the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom in Fall of 2015 after not finding anything like it available locally for my son that I homeschool. We enjoyed gardening at home but he wanted to garden and learn with friends. More and more public and private schools are getting gardens, gardening classes, and clubs but there wasn’t a place homeschoolers or those without access to a garden could go for that. I envisioned more than just a “community garden” where people garden plots independent of each other, but instead a garden that brought people together  to learn, grow, explore, make new friends, and play on a regular basis.

The garden and the outdoors in general  are the perfect place for anyone, especially children to learn life-long skills, natural sciences, and build confidence in their ability and place in the natural world. I started with homeschool classes because I homeschool, but now I offer a preschool “lil sprouts” class, an after school club and a lot of the parents attend the class with their children too, so it really has become something for the whole community.

Some of the families that attend The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom have acres of land, with animals, and a big garden. They come because they want to learn more, share what they know, and connect with others with similar interest. Some of the families that attend The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom live in apartments in Waco with no yard at all. They attend because they want their children to still get to have wonderful outdoor experiences in the garden picking vegetables, caring for chickens, and hiking in the woods. A lot of the families fall somewhere between the two. I love the mix of families that attend classes and the community it creates.

What type of programs do we offer?

The Children’s classes are divided in sessions in the fall and spring. Each class meets once a week for 6-12 weeks. We also offer short summer and winter day camps for children. The garden has raised gardening beds, a fairy garden, a wildlife garden, compost bins, a key hole garden, chicken coop, worm composting bin, a play area with an awesome tree house that the children enjoy every class.

This past spring we offered a four hour nature school for homeschoolers. In this class we hiked in the woods and explored local plants and animals, read stories, and journaled our new discoveries, then had lunch in the park, after which headed over to the garden where we planted, watered, and harvested the garden, made garden fresh snacks like pizza, salsa, and hand cranked ice cream, cared for our chickens, harvested honey, made cob fairy houses, and learned about composting.

We also offered a one hour”lil sprouts” gardening class for ages 3-5 and their caregiver and an after school gardening club so children that attend school are able to partake in classes as well. In these classes we did some of the same garden activities as the nature school class does. The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom also has put on workshops for adults like basic gardening and learning how to make sauerkraut and beeswax candles. This spring we hosted a community MLK Day of service with the Urban Garden Coalition, a Spring potluck, and a George Washington Carver Story in the Garden.

Where is the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom?

It’s located at 100 N Oak in Lorena, TX,  just outside of Waco. We are in the very big backyard of the business Enchanted Cedar who graciously allow us to use the space. We are one block away from Lorena’s McBryer Park and hiking trails.
 
What keeps me going?

I want all families to know how easy gardening can be and the many benefits it offers to both children and adults. You not only get fresh organic vegetables but also children that are eager to eat them. It’s the easiest way to adopt a healthy lifestyle. There are so many lessons that can be taught through gardening with little effort, you just pick up on them naturally caring for and watching the garden grow.  You also get all of the mental and physical health benefits science shows of being immersed and connected to nature and in our busy world that can be very important. In the two years I have been leading classes at The Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom I have learned so much from the garden, children, and parents. I’m excited to see what new things the garden has in store. I want to inspire our community to garden, hike, and enjoy the outdoors more in their daily lives.

Upcoming Events:
Sauerkraut Make and Take Workshop: June 4th 3pm.  Learn to make lacto fermented Sauerkraut and the health benefits of fermented food. Make your own custom sauerkraut to take home

Art in Nature Day Camp June 12  – June 14  9 am – 1pm
Activities include using nature and natural material to paint, sculpt, draw, and craft along with plenty of gardening, hiking, animal care, snack making, and more. For children attending with a parent or guardian this will be a donation based event. There are a limited amount of drop off spots available.

You can find out more about upcoming event, register,  or contact the garden:
https://www.facebook.com/childrensgardenandoutdoorclassroom/


Ashley Stephens lives in Lorena Tx with her son Ajoni  and their chickens, ducks, and bees. She homeschools, runs the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom, and works at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. She loves to garden and backyard homestead. She studied Horticulture and Agriculture at Central Texas College, has a Permaculture Design Certificate, and is a McLennan County Master Gardner intern.

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