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Sharing Nature with Children: Garden Sprouts, a Preschool Program

Not A Stick, a book by Antoinette Portis. Illustration by Antoinette Portis Book: Not A Stick, by Antoinette Portis

Not A Stick, a book by Antoinette Portis. Illustration by Antoinette Portis
Book: Not A Stick, by Antoinette Portis

Garden Sprouts is a program I run at the South Carolina Botanical Garden that is designed for preschoolers and caregivers. This class takes place once a week for three months every spring and fall. The goal is to share age-appropriate nature-based activities with children, who are mostly three to five years old, but sometimes younger or older. Over time I have learned the caregivers also learn things they never knew, enjoy the activities immensely, and are able to connect more deeply to the natural world through this program. The structure of this hour-long program is three-fold, we begin inside with a book related to the theme of the day, a walk or outdoor activity, and finally a craft. In this blog, I would like to share some of the books, outdoor activities, and crafts we have done in this class.

Not A Stick is a magical book that encourages children to tap into their innate creativity. In the hands of a small pig, the hero of the book, a stick becomes a sword, or barbell, or another equally useful object. Built into the narrative is a gentle warning about the risks of playing with sticks, which enables the adult to reinforce this message of care, while still encouraging play and imagination. What I like about this book is its simplicity and the accessibility of the materials for playing. Sticks are everywhere!

Children use sandwich bags for collecting sticks.

Children use sandwich bags for collecting sticks.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

Garden Sprout class collecting sticks.

Garden Sprout class collecting sticks.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

Garden Sprout class making a nest with sticks.

Garden Sprout class making a nest with sticks.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

Walk: Finding the Perfect Stick and Beyond

When we walk in the Garden, I often give the children a collecting bag. For this purpose, I use paper sandwich bags from the grocery store, these are typically only a dollar for 50 and are sturdy, spacious and toddler-sized (if you have more than one child, be sure and write their names on the bag). In this case, the goal for the walk was to find sticks that “spoke” to the child. However, as with many outdoor activities, once children were encouraged to play, imaginations blossomed, and creativity occurred.

Big sticks, small sticks, branched sticks, and bunches of leaves were gathered as the kids decided to make a gigantic nest. Over time, I have realized the pivotal importance of free play. What was initially highly directed and subject-focused walks have changed into gentle walks with an opportunity to play, experiment, and create freely. As a person with “educator” as their job title, it is hard for me to step back and allow the children to take the lead in their own experiences and their own self-paced education, but when I do, magic happens.

Craft: That’s not a Stick

The beauty of nature-based crafts is that the materials are free and freely available. For this activity, we added paper, tape, glue, and access to a pencil and crayons. Imaginations went wild!

Garden Sprout making art with sticks.

Garden Sprout making art with sticks.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

Garden Sprout making art with sticks.

Garden Sprout making art with sticks.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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