Q&A with Molly Barten, Family Education Coordinator

The summer months are the perfect time for families to connect with nature together, and one particular gem in Ames, Iowa has plenty of opportunities to choose from. Reiman Gardens is a horticulture center with several attractions β€” including both indoor and outdoor gardens, a conservatory, a butterfly wing and more. They also host and hold several community events and activities. Molly Barten, the Youth and Family Education Coordinator at Reiman Gardens, discusses how important it is that children can have fun learning experiences at the Gardens this summer.

What can families do together at Reiman Gardens?

We have a year- round weekly early childhood education program called the Caterpillar Club. That program is completely run by three volunteers all of whom are retired but have a background in education. Each week, I'll read a story that's usually connected to nature or animals, or sometimes to what's going on at Reiman Gardens. We have lots of regulars, which is really great to see lots of families over and over again and get to know them. It's a great kind of drop in program for families if they have younger children. We also try to offer some kind of a grab-and-go scavenger hunt that's usually in our brochure rack at the front desk. Families don't necessarily need a staff member, it's kind of like self-exploration. They can interact with their children and, you know, just kind of explore the gardens with different eyes because they're looking for something specific.

How can children learn about nature at Reiman Gardens?

We offer a number of school programs. We call them our school programs because all of the guided activities are connected to next generation science standards. We have three pre-k programs β€” a beginner arts, beginner science and beginner math β€” where we read a story and then do an activity with the students. Then, we have a first and second grade program called Bio Basics, we have a third and fourth grade program called Flower Forensics, and then we have a fifth and sixth grade program called System and Cycles. Each of those programs, we bring students through the conservatory or through the butterfly wing, and then there's some kind of hands-on component.

Why is environmental education important for children?

We do live in such a technological world. And I think it's very easy to get kind of disconnected from the world around us. And so I think it's just so important for anybody, not just children, but for individuals to spend time outside. I think that's really important that children can take charge of their own learning and have time to explore, make mistakes and discover things.

When children visit Reiman Gardens, what is their favorite part?

Our children's garden is actually one of my favorite spaces, and it's specifically geared towards children. It’s set up more for exploration and play than our other garden spaces. 

What do you hope that kids and families will learn when they visit Reiman Gardens?

I would hope the biggest takeaway is that, you know, they feel like it's a place where they belong. We hope that people enjoy it enough to want to come back and see other things that we have to offer, because things are always changing.