Summer Camp at the Children's Garden

Summer Camp at the Children's Garden

Imagine for a moment, a 4-year-old boy leaping over tires and tree trunks, playing in the mud, running through rows of corn, tasting tomatoes just plucked from the garden and banging on overturned tin pots.

That boy - plus about a dozen other children - lived those idyllic, rural moments this summer in suburban Long Island as part of a new summer camp initiated by The Garden at St. Francis Episcopal Church in North Bellmore.

July’s inaugural summer camps at the Children’s Garden felt like a wonderland where kids were let loose to play and climb and learn in the most natural environment possible - outside. The two sessions were each only a week long, acting as a trial run after the children’s area was completed. The program was yet another way to brighten and make use of the two acres owned by St. Francis Episcopal Church.

“It was nice to see them with literally no walls and exploring with complete freedom,” said Nicole Roccaro, children’s garden teacher and curriculum facilitator. “It’s my dream classroom. As a teacher, I’ve always been within those four walls.”

Since 2011, the 5,000-square-foot food garden has produced a harvest that mostly goes to the Long Island Council of Churches emergency food bank in Freeport. What doesn’t head there is sold on Sundays at the St. Francis farm stand, proceeds of which fund the garden ministry.

When Kerri Catalano of Seaford heard about the new summer camp this year, she was all for sending her two youngest boys, 4 and 5.

“I wanted them to be outside as much as possible,” Catalano said. “I could just tell that they really take to that kind of environment. It’s where they thrive the most.”

There were monarch and swallowtail butterflies to chase, lamb’s ear and cactus to touch, chocolate mint and lime basil to taste, bronze fennel and citronella to smell, wind chimes to hear and a rainbow of flowers to see, such as sunflowers, zinnias, pincushions and bachelor’s buttons.

“It is, in part, a sensory garden,” said Susan Salem, garden manager.

Each day, the children practiced yoga positions on fringed cotton mats, learning to meditate and be mindful of the sounds of the wind and traffic. They created art using materials from nature and recycled items, like painting rocks and gluing flowers to mirrors. Music involved a whole lot of banging spoons on pots fastened to the Music Wall. They got to run under a sprinkler and water plants from a pitcher they filled from a rain barrel.

Snack time was their chance to learn about the garden’s carrots, garlic, kohlrabi, peas and rainbow chard firsthand. They plucked the day’s choice, cleaned it and then passed it around, discussing the texture, smell, look and taste while sitting on a blanket in the shade.

“I was sad it was only two weeks and hope we can do it for longer next summer,” Roccaro said. “It was so much fun for me too.”