3 Steps to Make Literacy Inspired Whimsical Miniature Gardens
How do you create a gardening experience for 30 children and adults in the inner city of Lynn, MA without “green space”? I was recently asked to be part of the REAL program team to deliver a two-hour, hands-on gardening experience that enriches literacy and the imagination.
Creating Miniature fairy gardens was the answer! They are magical gardens that have so many of the elements that we needed for this particular challenge. There is something about making a secret tiny garden that sparks one’s imagination. So let’s get started!
Step 1: Collect Loose Parts & Play. To prepare for this experience, I started making my own miniature gardens with my kids in our own backyard outdoor classroom-learning lab. We collected nature’s loose parts: pine cones, sticks, leaves, little branches, shells, twigs, and stones. We ventured into our “junk bins” for inspiration. Mini wooden trains, boats, and springs were some treasures found. Adding craft supplies completed our supply list. Craft sticks, markers, clay, feathers…you name it. We had the option of adding mini plants, too.
Step 2: Choose a Container. Discovering different garden container ideas was especially enlightening. I found great samples of gardens in baskets, birdbaths, wheelbarrows, boxes and huge barrels.
Step 3: Creation time! With a variety of loose parts, my kids created a factory of miniature magical creations. Wooden houses, flags, signs, boats….more houses. Playful literacy learning peaked. One idea led to the next with storytelling inspirations. Before we knew it, my children and I had created an entire village, complete with signposts. Soon enough, we welcomed three whimsical miniature gardens into our backyard and named them, Seashell Cove, Enchanted Forest and Pixie Palace.
I was eager to re-create this experience at the REAL program and ready for the challenge of bringing a nature-rich experience to an inner city program without any “green space.” I was excited to be sharing my passion for gardening and curious the see if these children would have the same experience as my own children did when building magical and whimsical spaces.
The concept was to bring nature with us to the program in the form of loose parts. As the seasons changed, we had collected sticks, pinecones, dried flowers, pebbles, and anything loose in nature. Garden kits, for the young children, were created with these nature supplies. Dirt, craft supplies, and a few “junk drawer” finds were also added.
I asked the children to use their imaginations to create a whimsical garden. The children immediately asked what these words meant and, once they got the vocabulary defined, there was an eruption of making and creating! As the children worked they problem solved with balancing, designing and calculating. Their own miniature garden stories began to flow. Garden characters were imagined. Creativity soured as the children began to make their own REAL Whimsical Garden city.
The miniature garden building is a fabulous way to bring a nature experience to a large group. Gathering nature’s loose parts allowed us to transport nature-rich experience into a community with limited options for nature exploration. Children were digging in the soil, breaking sticks and maneuvering pine cones while their imaginations were at work.
Now I want to hear from you. Have you ever created a whimsical miniature garden? Share your story in the comments below. Want to learn more about how to design an Outdoor Classroom? Check out the Teaching in the Dirt: Designing Outdoor Classrooms Master Class.
Don’t have time for a Master Class? Come on over to the Outdoor-Classroom Facebook group and join the conversation HERE.