The After School in the Gardens program offers children what they need most; screen-free time spent outdoors, engaging in active learning and exploration. For each session, our educators come prepared with planned activities that will spark wonder in participants. From there, we let the session progress naturally and encourage unstructured, child-initiated play and learning.  The brilliant Albert Einstein once said, “Play is the highest form of research,” and we agree!

On a typical day, children might be catching frogs, doing science experiments, creating nature crafts, bird watching, building forts, gardening, or cooking with ingredients from the kitchen garden.School Boy Butterfly Monk Gardens

During a November 2020 after-school session on a rather chilly day, the children made a soup packed with veggies they had harvested earlier in the kitchen garden season. As the other children chopped and measured, it was clear that one of them, Evan, had lost interest. “My brother got the new Minecraft for his birthday yesterday. I can’t wait to go home and play it! Can you call my mom and ask her to pick me up early?” he cried, his eyes wide and pleading. “I have that game, and it’s so fun!” Morgan piped up. The kids began chattering about the video game’s coolest features, the excitement for the soup fading fast.

Recognizing the need to introduce a different activity while waiting for their soup to cook, I introduced a new tool that was new to this group- handheld microscopes! Evan’s face lit up when he saw them. “Cool!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never seen a microscope like this. These are something a REAL scientist would use!” Soon, he was investigating salt granules, grass blades, and sidewalk stains with keen interest.  Morgan was just as fascinated. “Can you take a picture of this microscope and send it to my mom? I want to add it to my Christmas list!” Any lingering thoughts of video games had seemingly vanished.

The children were having so much fun that they were somewhat reluctant to get the microscopes cleaned up and put away as pick-up time approached.  They sipped on the delicious soup and talked about how microscopes reminded them of binoculars in the way that they make things look bigger.  They decided to spend the following day bird watching – also a first for Evan!

These discovery moments can make lasting impressions on a child and drive them to uncover the details of the world around them. Providing children with the opportunity to stay curious, build resilience and confidence, and find new interests in the outdoors is essential to instill lifelong learning habits.  When I look back on this story, it reminds me of when I was gifted my first magnifying glass as a child. The world never looked quite the same to me after that day, and it woke a curiosity in me that I hadn’t known existed. That curiosity continues to burn in me, even as an adult.

For more information about how to register for our free Afterschool in the Gardens program this spring, visit


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