A travel scholarship to America to study children’s education and interpretation
By Emma Fox
When my choice of career changed from becoming a primary school teacher to becoming a horticulturalist, I never imagined that my two interests would ever combine in a professional sense. Ironically, it wasn’t until I started as a Diploma Student at Kew that I first realised this potential.
With the role of all botanic gardens becoming ever more focused on public education and increasing the awareness surrounding plant conservation, the possibilities for educators within horticulture are now great.
In June 1998 I embarked on my three week Travel Scholarship to the East Coast of the U.S.A., where I would combine my two professional interests of horticulture and education by studying Children’s Education and Interpretation in Botanic Gardens. Many of the North American botanic gardens and horticultural institutions are recognised as being at the forefront of public education and interpretation, especially with regard to young children. My trip would take me to some of the best examples of education and interpretation for children that can be seen anywhere in the world today.
The first two weeks of my scholarship were spent visiting botanic gardens and horticultural institutions, where I met with educators and staff and was shown the extent of their children’s programmes and interpretation. For the final week of my scholarship I attended the 1998 Annual Conference of the American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta (A.A.B.G.A.).
My scholarship began in New York where I visited Brooklyn Botanic Garden (B.B.G.), an excellent starting point as B.B.G. claims its Children’s Garden, initiated in 1914, to be “. . . the oldest such program in continuous operation . . .”. B.B.G’s Education programmes have developed considerably in the 85 years since the Children’s Garden first opened its gates. It now offers a range of both schools and family programming, with some of the most up to date interactive exhibits and displays found in any botanic garden.
From Brooklyn I travelled to the Bronx, another district of New York, where I visited two gardens and met with their staff and educators. I spent a day at Wave Hill, a small garden which focuses its educational programming on schools, with an emphasis on Ecological Education.
From Wave Hill I visited New York Botanical Garden (N.Y.B.G.), which is currently in the middle of a seven year, $175 million, capital improvement project. The highlight of my time spent at N.Y.B.G. must be when I visited one of the latest stages of this improvement project — the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, which had opened only two weeks before I arrived. This garden, designed to be both educational and fun for children between the ages of 4-16, took over five years in the planning and cost more than $12 million — a real investment in education in every sense of the word!!!
From New York I moved south to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, where I visited the staff and educators at Morris Arboretum and learned about their Education Programming (I was even allowed to contribute to their Education Committee meeting!) From Pennsylvania I travelled to the state of Delaware — home to Longwood Gardens, probably more famous for its hybrid of Victoria amazonica than its education programming. Here I was invited to meet with the designers of the proposed new indoor Children’s Garden. Mary and Tres explained just what was involved in designing a garden for children, including how they had actually interviewed a range of age groups of children to discover what it was that they really wanted from a garden especially for them, a garden designed with an emphasis on fun rather than education.
For the final week of my scholarship I returned to Philadelphia where I attended the A.A.B.G.A. Conference. I attended workshops and lectures on a range of education related topics and was able to learn from the experiences of many of the other delegates from gardens around the world.
My travel scholarship really did open my eyes to what it is possible to achieve in Children’s Education. It also made me realise just how dependent any improvement of educational programming is, upon factors such as fundraising (for generating capital) and the use of volunteers (for manning and running exhibits or programmes).
On a final note I would like to thank all of the sponsors of my Travel Scholarship, especially the Kew Guild.