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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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