Friday, 12 September 2014

A Summer of Family Friendly Afternoons at Harcourt Arboretum - Corie Edwards

August was a whirlwind of glitter glue, feathers, and pipe cleaners with the Harcourt Arboretum’s Family Friendly Afternoons taking place each Tuesday during the month. The theme for this summer’s family friendlies was ‘Parts of a Plant’, therefore each week dealt with a different part - we had Lovely Leaves, Brilliant Bark, Fabulous Flowers, and Splendid Seeds.

4 parts of a plant

For each event we had to design a new 10-stop trail around the Arboretum and three craft activities for families to create. Therefore, in just one month we had 40 different stops around the Arboretum and 12 themed craft activities. I found the preparation work to be the most challenging part of running family events.

Designing trails was by far the trickiest part. Locating 40 different trees and shrubs in the Arboretum isn’t difficult as we have over 1,065 species on site. The difficult part is matching trees to the theme and having a trail that isn’t too long, but still covers a good chunk of the 130-acre site. Very often I found myself wishing we could move trees around to better suit the trails.

Another difficult element was trying to make sure the objects we chose would be around for the week the trail was in place. As with any collection, but more so with a living collection, an object you have planned into your event may be there one day but not the next due to various reasons. Sometimes it seemed like the site was against us because trees would stop flowering when we planned our flower trail and animals would eat up the nuts before the seeds trail. It all worked out in the end with some cleaver re-routing.

Preparation for crafts was challenging at times, but was loads of fun. Thinking and researching crafts for children to do that used natural resources was time well spent. Then having to create the craft myself to make sure children could do it was fab! There’s nothing like ending a hard day of work with an hour of making crafts.

Some of the craft activities

All of our family friendly afternoons were held outside. Thankfully this year we had a covered shelter over the picnic table where families were taking part in the crafts. The shelter was extremely helpful because we had rain for at least some part of every family afternoon. The shelter kept the families dry as well as the crafts. I felt it also encouraged families to stay around longer.

We had a number of repeat families each week. It was amazing getting to know our visitors better. I think the families also enjoyed that personal touch because we could address them by name when they arrived and left. Furthermore, we could greet them by saying things like, ‘nice to see you again,’ and also saying, ‘see you next week,’ when they were leaving.  I made a point to take as many pictures as I could of families attending each week. We let the families know that we would be putting the pictures up on the Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum blog. We had multiple families tell us that they went to read the blog afterwards to show their kids how ‘famous’ they were online on the website!

Leaf people

Of course none of the events would have ran as smoothly as they did without the amazing volunteers. The Arboretum has a good number of regular volunteers for family events, but there were also some new-comers this summer. They all seemed to really enjoy working with kids outside and were patient with helping the kids create the crafts we designed. When you have volunteers who leave with a smile on their face, even though there is dirt, glitter glue, tape, and bark stuck on their hands, legs, hair, just about everywhere, you know you have great volunteers. A HUGE thank you for all their help, we honestly couldn’t have done it without them!

“The craft activities are fab: seed related, accessible, good helpers” – Visitor feedback after Splendid Seeds
“It was EPIC!” – 5 year old participant at Fabulous Flowers
“The activities are great + the staff really good with the little ones.”
“Lovely crafts, thank you! And attentive staff.”
“I like my headband. We will come back.” – Child participant after Brilliant Bark
“I like making the book mark + looking at + feeling the bark.” – Child participant feedback from Brilliant Bark
“Good craft ideas. Friendly and helpful staff. Thank you x” – Visitor feedback after Lovely Leaves.

I learned so much about what goes into prepping family friendly events here at the Arboretum. Lynn the Education Officer at Harcourt Arboretum had the theme for the events picked out about 9 months before they were to run. At nine months before you have a vague idea of what you want to include for the events, but it is not until the dates draw nearer that your really nail down your ideas. Getting all your ‘ducks in a row’ and resources prepped and ready to go is time consuming, but well worth it on the day when you get children telling you they enjoyed making one of the crafts or telling you about their favorite stop on a trail. I had one child during splendid seeds that I helped make a cone wind chime tell me the names of the different cones he was using for his wind chime because he just learned about them on the trail. He also told me what his favorite stop was and why. It was brilliant that something I designed actually had an impact and I got to see that.

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