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A place for curiosity to lead

A+place+for+curiosity+to+lead
Ithaca Children’s Garden strives to be a location for children to explore nature.

Ithaca Children’s Garden sign (Source: Maddie Miele/Ithaca Week).

What is the Ithaca Children’s Garden?

When a visitor enters the wooden gate, they hear laughter and birds singing. As they feel the wind gusts from Cayuga Lake nearby, they see colorful signs and children enjoying the presence of nature. 

Founded in 1997, by Harriet Becker, Mary Alyce Kobler and Monika Roth, the Ithaca Children’s Garden (ICG) is a three-acre public garden designed for the youth. It is located at 121 Turtle Lane in Ithaca, NY.

The three co-founders became inspired after hearing Jane Taylor, the founding curator of Michigan’s 4-H Children’s Garden, speak about the positive impact of a children’s garden. 

Two years later, in 1999, ICG received its 501(c)3 non-profit status. Then, in 2004, the ICG received notice that their lease, for the 3 acres in Cass Park, was secured by the City of Ithaca.

Ithaca Children’s Garden mission

Lauren Salzman, ICG education director, explains the garden is free and open to everyone from dawn to dusk. 

“[ICG’s] mission is connecting children to nature to create a more beautiful, resilient, and just world,” Salzman said.

May, age 5, standing on Gaia the Turtle. She started coming to ICG when she was 2. She said her favorite parts are the purple swing benches (Source: Maddie Miele/Ithaca Week).

Salzman, who has been working at ICG for eight years and has 20 years of experience in connecting children with nature, said that ICG offers several educational programs. 

The ICG programs are half-day preschool program, after-school program, summer camps, community events and outreach work. 

“We give the kids time, space and permission to play,” Salzman said. “To follow their curiosity and to engage with the things that are here in the way that feels right to them.” 

Grace Heath, head of the after-school program and summer camp assistant director, spends her weekdays from 3 to about 5:30p.m. with a group of 15 to 17 children. 

Heath explained that ICG started the after-school program last year and many of the children have re-enrolled.

“The education aspect is learning how to have healthy social and emotional relationships with people,” Heath said. “It really is more of an educational way on how we can create a community and also take care of the space we’re in.”

Newest installation

The ICG installed their first indoor covered space, a 30-foot yurt. They started construction last spring and were able to move into it this past November.

The yurt (Source: Maddie Miele/Ithaca Week).

“A yurt is traditionally a Mongolian semi-permanent structure. It can be used year-round, so it is insulated, we have electricity and a bathroom,” Salzman said. 

Salzman said it has been an amazing addition to the garden and provides a necessary place of warmth for the children.

Upcoming events and preparing for spring

With ICG’s striving to educate the youth about nature, they give children the option to help prepare the gardens for the spring. 

“The Playful Nature Preschool kids have been helping in the vegetable garden to loosen up the soil,” Salzman said. “They have been filling some flats of trays with soil and they started to sow some seeds that are being started inside the Yurt for our vegetable garden.”

A staff member and children gardening (Source: Ithaca Children’s Garden).

Salzman said these preparations help the garden get ready for their upcoming events. 

On April 22, Earth Day, in partnership with the Ithaca Garden Club, the garden is hosting their first Daffodil Dash

On June 24, they have International Mud Day, a beloved event by community members. This is when the Anarchy Zone turns into a giant mud zone, and anyone can come play in the mud. Then in October, they host a fall festival called the Scarecrow Jubilee

“We stay busy all year round and we rely on the support of amazing volunteers,” Salzman said.

 

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