At Denver Botanic Gardens, Family Workshops offer an opportunity for kids ages 5-12 and their adults to create a project together based on a theme. The Gardens offer 5-10 workshop themes per year. Running for two hours, the workshops require preregistration which helps with determining how much to buy for materials. The program costs between $10-$12 for adults and $15-$17 for kids (member and non-member pricing), and a confirmation email provides adults with all of the information they need to know prior to their visit. The room is set up with about six 8-foot tables which allow two to three family groups at each table. Materials are put out on the tables to share. Themes are seasonal or relate to a particular exhibit. Projects have included fairy gardens in January, chocolate making in February, sugar skulls in October and gingerbread houses in December.
Each workshop begins with a brief introduction of the workshop topic by a Gardens’ educator. The rest of the time the families are engaged in hands-on exploration and project creation. After some early prototyping, educators realized that families wanted to get started right away, so they reduced the amount of formal instruction. Families are excited to dig right in and get their hands dirty. Volunteers and educators float around the room, helping with the distribution of materials and offering further information and assistance. Families who are interested in more in-depth content can talk one-on-one with the volunteers and educators. Projects are based on a theme, but are open-ended to let kids and adults be creative and personalize their projects to their unique style. The projects may be more complex than people anticipate, but they are definitely doable. A messy table at the end of the session is an indication of a successful project. A benefit for adults is that they don’t have to worry about cleaning up messes at their house. At the end of the workshop, educators and volunteers encourage families to explore the Gardens and galleries to find the relevant connections between what’s on view and what they just made.
Since the workshops take place in a garden setting, the projects always have some connection to plants. For example, for the gingerbread houses, facilitators show the plant-based spices that are used in baking gingerbread. Educators have designed the program to be authentic by incorporating actual plants wherever they can. They also bring in multisensory components such as when they break open a cocoa pod and taste the beans for the chocolate-making activity, or smell different spices for the gingerbread houses. The big takeaway from the workshops is that plants are important parts of our everyday lives.
The activities are great for all ages. Families are welcome to stay for the whole two hours but if there are younger kids who finish early, they can leave at any time. Older kids and adults tend to get really into the project and utilize the whole session. Volunteers and educators work to accommodate families with multiple children by offering backup support for adults who might have their hands full with infant or toddler siblings. Educators hope adults will follow their child’s lead and let their child express him or herself. Adults can talk to their children about the choices they’re making on their project which allows for easy conversation. If there is a more challenging element to the project, facilitators might say something like “This is going to be a hard part; you might need your grown-up’s hands to help you.” Materials such as knives are automatic cues for parents to pay attention.
The Family Workshops have evolved over the years. Pricing used to be for an adult/child pair, but now they register adults and children separately. Parents sometimes inquire as to why they have to pay for themselves, but it is set up that way to encourage the adults and kids to interact with each other, and to let adults know that they are going to play an integral part in the workshop. Adults can create their own project or work together with their child on one project. Charging the adults an admission also helps to offset the cost of materials. Educators have made changes by paying attention to their audience and observing the families who have attended. Early on, educators ran the workshop for three hours but they realized that was too long, so they shortened it to two hours. As mentioned earlier, they also cut back on the amount of time spent on direct instruction, giving families bits and pieces of content along the way to allow for more interaction between facilitators and families, and within families. Families can ask questions and educators can suggest things to try at home. As educators, it can be hard to let go of the content, but they structure the workshop in a way where they can share information with people who are old enough and who are interested in it, while offering a hands-on exploration or project to do right away. If other institutions are interested in running a similar family workshop, Denver Botanic Gardens recommends being flexible and understanding of your audience, and remember that it’s ok to get messy!
Special thanks to Melissa Gula, Manager of Family and Children’s Programs at the Denver Botanic Gardens. http://www.botanicgardens.org/