You may have already taken your kids to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but did they plant a seedling, or play with composting worms? Now is their chance! The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is celebrating the 100th birthday of the Children’s Garden with special events, classes and exhibits. Read on to discover all of the fun happening now through the fall.

Children's Garden 2014

Children’s Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo by Antonio M. Rosario. Courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

A Little History

Since 1914, the Children’s Garden has been a place for kids to get their hands dirty and really learn what it means to nurture a plot of land and be a part of the wonders of nature. Now, 100 years later, your kids can learn the same skills through hands on classes. Throughout much of the year, kids ages 2 to 17 can tend their own mini-gardens under the supervision of garden instructors and even take home the fruits (get it?) of their labor.

The first of its kind to ever be created within a public botanic garden, the Children’s Garden has become not only the center of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s educational outreach, but an inspiration for everything from botanic gardens to schoolyards worldwide. In fact, this year, the First Lady presented BBG with a national award for community outreach programs like those offered by the Children’s Garden.

Photo: via U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr creative commons

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr creative commons

What You’ll Find at the Children’s Garden

Today, approximately 150,000 kids a year get to be part of the Children’s Garden programs and some even get their very own plot of land in this idyllic space. The Garden, located at the south end of the BBG (near the site of the new kids Discovery Garden opening in spring of 2015) is closed to the public, but kids can gain access by becoming part of a Garden program.

Sign your kids up for one of the offered classes or workshops and they’ll not only learn a little about horticulture and agriculture, but also they’ll learn to appreciate the relationship between nature and the food that they eat. The kids even put on a farmers market for their families where you can buy everything from homemade bug repellent to dollhouse gardens. Every stage of the plant growth process is celebrated, from selecting seeds to planting, weeding, harvesting and utilizing the plants they’ve grown. This is a unique opportunity to get your kids out in the fresh air and learning in a very special environment.

Registration has just opened on August 4 for the BBG fall workshops and classes, which teach kids of all ages about gardening and even incorporate cooking and crafts to round out the garden experience. Toddlers with caregivers can try the Trees & Saplings class, pre-K/kindergartner can try the drop-off Seeds class, and older kids grades 1-8 can become part of City Farmers. Classes are offered on weekends and weekdays, and all fill up pretty fast. Fees vary by class, limited scholarships are available on a first come first served basis.

sunflower kids in BBG
Children’s Education at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

How to Celebrate the Children’s Garden’s 100th Birthday

In honor of its 100th year, the Children’s Garden is offering a number of special events and programs throughout the BBG. On August 13, you and your kids (ages 8-12) can go on a Midsummer Magic Plant Walk. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fans can learn about the real magic of plants from their favorite stories and even make their own potions. In addition, through the month of August, there are drop-in family activities in the Fragrance Garden, Tues.-Sat. mornings. Kids of all ages can create nature oriented crafts or plant a seedling – maybe even walk away with their very own baby tomato plant! Staff is available to guide your kids through these activities, and there are manned discovery stations around the Fragrance Garden where kids can get some outdoor story time, examine a bucket of composting worms and learn something new about plants. It’s the perfect way to spend an hour or two!

Older kids might also enjoy the 100 Years and Growing exhibit, on display in the the lower level of the Steinhardt Conservatory through September 21. There they can uncover the history of this award-winning, kid-centric gardening program through memorabilia and interactive displays.

Photo: via Michael Dougherty on Flickr creative commons

Photo credit: via Michael Dougherty on Flickr creative commons

Other Must-See Exhibits for Kids

Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden – This beautifully serene part of the garden is a wonderful place to spot some big orange fish, turtles and water birds. A meandering, shady and somewhat stroller-friendly path leads you around the pond and into little enclaves and viewing points. There’s also a roofed viewing pavilion near the entrance of the Japanese Garden, and the benches inside overlooking the water make a particularly good place to take a break, load up on fluids and enjoy a cool breeze. It’s all very Zen. Maybe some of it will rub off on your hyperactive kid. Maybe.

Tree House Installation –  While the BBG doesn’t have a proper playground, if the acres upon acres of green lawns lined with gorgeous trees and lush flower beds perfect for a run and frolic aren’t enough for your little climber, check out the art installation by Roderick Romero constructed of trees downed by Hurricane Sandy. Flanked by log staircases, it feels part tree house, part mythical pirate ship. Take a seat on one of the benches nearby, and watch your kid’s eyes bug out as they explore this really unique structure.

Steinhardt Conservatory – This indoor sanctuary is a world in itself and you’ll feel like you’re traveling to different worlds simply by walking through this glass house. While a rainy day can ruin most outdoor outings, the Steinhardt Conservatory, with different pavilions exhibiting every climate from the arid and wonderful Desert Pavilion to the floating plants and orchids in the Aquatic House, is an escape so wonderful you almost pray for rain. Older kids might be interested in the different educational blurbs scattered around the conservatory.

Terrace Café – Unlike many museum cafeterias you’d be glad to skip, BBG’s Café offers delicious, sustainably grown and locally sourced organic goodness. The seasonal menu is unique and satisfying and there are a good number of umbrella-equipped tables to sit at. Order up a duck sausage sandwich or a kale salad garnished with BBG grown violas and listen as your kid squeals – she’s eating flowers for lunch! They have picky eater-pleasers like apple sauce squeeze pouches, too.

Insider’s Tip:  The Café is open Tuesday through Sunday. No outside food is allowed at the Café tables, or anywhere else in the garden for that matter (they do drive around and they will stop your picnic!). There are, depending on the weather, tables near the visitors center for bring your own lunch folks, and the rumor is you and your brown bag will not be kicked off the Cherry Esplanade, just don’t spread out a picnic blanket. Baby-sized blankets are permitted, however.

Plan Ahead:  For some extra credit with your kids, get a copy of BBG’s Kids Discovery Guide when you enter. Your little one will love having his very own map, and there are some cool game starters and ideas for things to do on your visit.

Go: Brooklyn Botanic Garden
150 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights

Hours: Tues. – Fri., 8 a.m.- 6 p.m., and Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. through October.

Admission: $10/adults, children under 12/free. Everyone gets in free on Tuesdays, and on Saturdays admission is free from 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

Have you taken your kids to the BBG? What is their favorite exhibit?

-Hanna R. Neier

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