4 Michigan Children’s Gardens: Move Learning Outdoors

Greater Lansing, Michigan, Midwest Travel, USA Travel

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A statue of a mouse greets children entering through their own gate at the Lena Meijer Children's Garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan
A mouse sculpture greets children entering through their own gate at the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan

School’s out for the summer; so, learning switches gears. Science switches from books and lab experiments to gardening, horticulture, and birding—art changes from finger painting to exploring giant sculptures. Pull the kiddos away from electronics and get them outdoors for some fresh air and fun. Here are four Michigan memory-making children’s gardens, each with a unique focus that will keep kids learning in a variety of modes throughout the summer.

You might be a bit concerned that a garden might leave the kiddos begging for an early departure, but that’s not the case in any of these gardens. While each includes flowers and plants, they also feature a variety of activities to engage the kiddos through action—mazes for exploring, paths for a brisk walk, a variety of climbing structures including tree houses, and an array of water features so that they won’t claim boredom throughout the day. In fact, it may be difficult to pry them away at closing time.

Lena Meijer Children’s Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids

Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, the most extensive children’s garden in the United States, is the five-acre children’s garden inside Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. As children enter the garden through their unique door, a giant mouse sculpture greets them. This garden emphasizes hands-on activities enhanced through sculptures.

  • Sculpture Represents Sight in the 5 Senses Area
  • Sculpture Represents Sound in the 5 Senses Area
  • Hear the Xylophone in the 5 Senses Area
  • Sculpture Represents Smell in the 5 Senses Area
  • Sculpture Represents Touch in the 5 Senses Area
  • Sculpture Represents Taste in the 5 Senses Area

The Five Senses Garden contains a sculpture representing each of the five senses. Each finger on the giant hand sculpture has a different texture designed for touch. They can carefully touch a soft lamb’s ear plant. In addition to hearing running water, the xylophone provides an opportunity to play the scales and hear the result of each chime. See brightly colored flowers and explore a variety of sculptures that will capture their attention. Smell the mint and lavender. What plants are edible? This question sparks a discussion about the sense of taste.

Activities

Activities abound in this children’s garden. At the rock quarry, you’ll find brushes and dustpans, just the equipment the kids will need to uncover fossils in the rock quarry carefully. They can follow a variety of animal tracks and try to discover which animal might have left that track. Viewers are available because, don’t you know, looking at sculptures through viewpoints is way more fun than just looking at them.

“Mom, look how high that tree house is!”

The kiddos can use the Great Lakes water feature to learn more about Michigan’s surrounding Great Lakes. This water play element provides children the opportunity to launch a boat on the Great Lakes or to build a bridge.

  • Sean Henry’s Lying Man sculpture
  • Jaume Plensa’s I You, She or He sculpture

Kids will not only enjoy the children’s garden; but, the Kids’ Tram transitions children from their unique garden to the rest of the Sculpture Park. Teachers lead tours that include matching songs to specific sculptures. Children explore Sean Henry’s Lying Man sculpture while the docent leads the children in the Are You Sleeping song. Jaume Plensa’s I, You, She or He sculpture group elicits a verse of the ABC song.

Gaffield Children’s Garden at Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor

Interaction is the focus of Gaffield Children’s Garden in Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

The Visitor’s Center near the garden entrance lends adventure backpacks with all the necessary supplies for extra fun. The bag has everything to play a competitive round of  Conservation Bingo or to participate in a Scavenger Hunt. 

Download this Garden Scavenger Hunt before your visit!

Wayfinder's Maze at Gaffield Children's Garden
Wayfinder’s Maze at Gaffield Children’s Garden

The Wayfinder’s Maze, with its dynamic swinging gates, allows for a game of hide and seek among the hedges. Since the gates swing to adjust, you can always enjoy the maze in a new and different way, even if you’ve been to this garden several times.

The Log Cabin at Gaffield Children's Garden in Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Log Cabin at Gaffield Children’s Garden in Ann Arbor

For the craftsmen in the group, the Builder’s garden will be the sought after space. In the Builder’s Garden, the kiddos can use sticks and branches to construct a lodging or hang out at the existing log cabin.

The Fairy and Troll Knoll Foot Bridge is a peaceful way to walk over the pond and experience the beauty of the water feature. Look for just that perfect stone or rock, but leave it in the designated box for others to enjoy on their visit.

Dow Gardens, Midland

The children’s garden in Dow Gardens emphasizes growing both flowers and vegetables.  Through the Growin’ Gardeners Program, you can rent a plot of land and experience where food comes from—seeds to table. Growing gardeners design their garden, plant it, care for the garden, and finally, harvest the fruits of their labor. They can make scarecrows and learn how they can help their garden grow.

In the organic vegetable garden, at harvest time, pick and take what you can carry home. Those vegetables extend math learning through measuring and making new recipes.

Water Feature at the Children's Garden in Dow Gardens
Water Feature at the Children’s Garden in Dow Gardens

The garden includes several interactive water activities. This water feature, an old-fashioned water pump, provides a water source to pump water and carry it to water your rented garden plot. Blowing giant bubbles at the bubble table can tire out the kiddos by letting them chase after those bubbles floating away.

Other physical activities include climbing in the treehouse or running through the tunnel. Sitting on the giant pig sculpture is a fun photo opportunity.

Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden, East Lansing

Entrance to Michigan 4-H Children's Garden
Entrance to Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden in Spring

The Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden encourages understanding plants through their fifty-five themed gardens.

To learn more about science, the Pharmacy garden lends itself to a discussion of the plant’s healing properties. This garden has plants that doctors use to treat children’s diseases or ones that they employed in the past.

The Cloth and Color Garden contains plants used to make clothes, dye them, or make your clothes smell better.

Click here to learn in more detail about the Pizza Garden at the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Tie reading into your adventure through story time, including Peter Rabbit’s Garden or the Stone Soup Garden. Read these books before you go, to gain a better understanding of these gardens.

Koy Pond at Michigan 4-H Children's Garden
The Koy Pond at Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden

Throughout the garden, encourage the kids to experience the areas through their five senses. Hear the various tones while dancing on the nine Dance Chimes. This activity engages the sense of hearing. Herbs and flowers abound where they can smell everything from oregano and mint to roses. Climbing on the train car involves the sense of touch.

Kids will have fun wandering through the Alice in Wonderland maze. The rather short path is just a few feet long, a perfect length for even the shortest legs.

The Michigan 4-H Children’s outdoor garden space is open dawn until dusk, with no admission charge. During business hours, you must pay to park in the adjoining parking lot.

Conclusion

So it doesn’t matter if you want to help your kiddos learn more about art, science, math, or have an outdoor adventure this summer, these four Michigan children’s gardens are a great way to make memories while learning.

Click here to pin this to your Michigan Pinterest Board.

Explore Michigan Children's Gardens

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    13 Comments

    1. Mary Heacock

      Were all of those parks there in 1970’s? Or made after we left Michigan in 1977? They sound so perfect to teach the kids about nature. Will have to pass this along to the family and friends. If and when they visit Michigan it would be great for them .

      Reply
      • Piper

        The MSU Children’s Garden opened in 1993 and the Frederick Meijer Garden opened in 1995. I believe the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden inside the larger garden came even later. Dow Gardens opened over 100 years ago and the one in Ann Arbor has been open since 1907. However, within those larger gardens the children’s gardens most likely opened later. They are always improving and can really be enjoyed form year round. We went to each of these over a an entire summer. Lots to do!

        Reply
    2. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

      These are all very neat and I know my kids would love to go exploring in them. I’ll be pinning this for our future Michigan vacation!

      Reply
      • Piper

        Thank you Val. I am sure your kids will have a great time!

        Reply
    3. Inessa

      Loved Jaume plensa’s statue. Looks like such a lovely place. DefiniTely putting ot on my travel itinerary.

      Reply
    4. Bel

      I love this style of interactive learning and believe wholeheartedly it is a wonderful way to learn.

      Reply
    5. ashley

      These look amazing! I love the 5 senses exhibit, my kids would love it too.

      Reply
    6. Amy McMahon

      That mouse at the gate reminded me of a character from the Narnia books…Reepacheep!

      Reply
      • Piper

        He was such a fun greeter! Kids love it!

        Reply
    7. Maggie

      These all sound so cool!! I’m all for getting kids out of the classroom and into nature and museums and such. Interactive learning is so much more effective, and these gardens look perfect for that!

      Reply
      • Piper

        They really are! Also they each have a different focus so you can visit them all and it won’t be the same experience.

        Reply
    8. Katie

      Oh, how I miss michigan and Meijer gardens. This is an awesome guide and so important for post-quarantine!

      Reply

    Trackbacks/Pingbacks

    1. Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden in East Lansing - Follow The Piper - […] here to discover other Michigan children’s […]
    2. 10 Michigan Summer Outdoor Adventures - Follow The Piper - […] This garden emphasizes growing both flowers and vegetables in their Growing Gardners program. If you have children, read more…

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    Welcome to Follow the Piper! Discover interesting destinations, and practical planning tips for packing more travel into your everyday life.

    Our founder and author, Amy Piper, is a freelance travel writer, blogger, photographer, and author specializing in luxury and multi-generational travel. She is a native Michigander who travels through the lens of a food lover and has been to 41 countries and 45 states.

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