Tending Gardens: Children & Nature Grow Together

Mother Nature can be a powerful teacher, especially for children coping with emotional and behavioral issues. This summer, three of Great Circle’s campuses partnered with nature and local organizations to help our children build skills and self-esteem – important components of the healing process.

On our St. Louis campus, transition facilitators Emily Mess and Maggie Aubuchon help the children develop social, work and leisure skills, and for the past three summers, to become on-site gardeners. “It’s about nurturing,” says Mess. “They love watching the seed become a plant and then produce food. They take pride in what they’ve nurtured and taken care of.”

On a steamy afternoon this summer, the children also staffed a juice and smoothie station, inviting Great Circle staff and other children to enjoy healthy beverages made from their garden’s produce.

The garden grown by the kids on our Springfield campus was spruced up recently with help from John Deere employees, who are long-standing friends and volunteers for Great Circle! To celebrate Build a Scarecrow Day on July 3, Deere employees brought wood, clothing and stuffing material; the children brought enthusiasm and quickly went to work. You can’t miss the five scarecrows gracing the garden there.

“John Deere is dedicated to those linked to the land, so we wanted a project that would help link the children closer to the land,” says Deere employee and master gardener Linda Dickinson. “Plus, how could we pass up Build a Scarecrow Day?”

Children on the St. James campus joined in a community garden effort sponsored by the St. James Caring Center. With the help of local master gardeners, the kids learned about gardening tools, observed how flowers and vegetables grew in nearby beds, and then donated much of their harvest to feed the homeless and homebound. It was lessons in collaboration and helping others interwoven with learning how to protect plants from bugs, says Great Circle’s Judy Hockersmith, who helps keep the garden program going.

“Each child draws a different benefit from a garden,” adds Mess. “Some love to cook the food, others like to build the trellis, some like to get dirty, some don’t. There’s a simplicity about the experience that moves them away from the challenges they may experience in so much of their life. They see the fruit of their labor, and they can see that they’ve been successful.”