Exploring Garden at library aims to promote literacy through outdoor exploration

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

Garden 1Libraries are considered quiet, serious and studious — a place for inside voices, kids learn from an early age. But the newest addition to the Woodinville Library aims to teach literacy in an unconventional way — through movement, performance, interaction and everything else the outdoors has to offer.

Darcy Newman, supervising librarian at the Woodinville Library, said libraries and the environment are a natural partnership. She cites studies showing that playing outside boosts children’s creativity, attention, problem-solving abilities and curiosity. Library collections and programs can fulfill the interest sparked by nature.

Five years ago, Newman pitched the idea for an Exploring Garden at the Woodinville Library. A party on Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. will celebrate the garden’s opening with a seed-planting activity for kids, refreshments and family-friendly music from Eli Rosenblatt and Friends.

"The Exploring Garden is intended to encourage informal exploration, as well as provide a gathering space for library programs," Newman wrote in an email interview. "It has elements designed to engage the senses: fragrant herbs to smell, edible plants, textures of the varying materials, sounds of the whispering dish and xylophone."

Spending time outdoors inspires children to observe closely, look at things from different perspectives, and write, build and create, Newman explained.

"Libraries contain information to learn about the world, yet visitors to the library walk from their cars to the library building, without access to the grounds and landscaping," she wrote. "Why not create some paths to encourage exploration and spark curiosity?"

The Exploring Garden, which will feature pathways, platforms and seasonal plants, can be used for storytelling, dramatic play, music and dance.

The movable parts of the garden, such as journals, tools and blocks, will vary with the seasons.

Children’s free time in the outdoors has dropped by nine hours per week in the past 20 years, while their indoor and screen time has increased, Newman said — a change she terms "nature deficit disorder."

The activities in the Exploring Garden aim to interest all children in reading, but especially kids who struggle with traditional methods of reading and writing, Newman said. And studies have shown that exposure to natural environments can reduce attention function disorders by helping children to focus.

Woodinville’s Exploring Garden will serve as a pilot project for possible development at other King County libraries. Newman references articles by Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods," saying libraries are ideal for connecting people to their natural surroundings because libraries already serve as community hubs, have resources like nature books and are known for being safe.

"It seems to be a growing movement," Newman said.



Photo by Briana Gerdeman. The Exploring Garden at the Woodinville Library will promote literacy by encouraging children’s curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. A party on Jan. 11 will celebrate the garden’s opening with music, refreshments and a seed-planting activity.

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