Meredith McGovern is a librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia 's Falls of Schuylkill Library and a participant in Cohort 3 of the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries trainings. Read more about the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries project at their blog .
As a children’s librarian, I work with our youngest patrons. Many of the families in our East Falls neighborhood love nature and the outdoors. With that in mind, I decided to run a Gardening for Kids program for my Skills for Community-Centered Libraries final project.
Along with Suzanne Penn, chair of the Friends of Falls of Schuylkill Gardening Committee , we brainstormed how to best run the program. She took on the job of picking the appropriate plants while I worked on getting the word out in the library and community. Suzanne, our gardening expert, found plants that were both fun to plant and accentuated the beauty of the garden already in place. We planned two sessions, one after school and one on a Saturday morning, as I wanted to reach as many children and families as possible.
One of my roles was determining how to modify a somewhat grown-up activity into something child-friendly. I purchased multiple sets of gardening gloves and colorful child-sized garden tools. Leading up to the event, I promoted the program to our weekly caregiver meet-up and after-school crowds (with a heavy focus on bugs!). I created a display of books on gardening, flowers and plants, and the bugs you may find in a neighborhood garden.
At both programs, Suzanne explained the basics of gardening — why she chose the plants she did, why examining the tags on the plant matters, and how to properly move a plant from its store-bought container into your garden. Did you know that there are zones on plant tags to let you know which geographic areas it should be planted in? This was just one of the fun facts we learned. Another was how to "brush the hair" of the plant with a fork before putting it into the final container to ensure the roots are evenly distributed.
The Thursday after-school session took place in the Calumet Street garden. For many of the attendees, this back entrance is their main entrance and they were excited to beautify the space! Due to its timing, this session brought in a variety of ages, primarily younger school-age kids and their caregivers. The children were excited to learn proper planting methods and to try out different tools to see how they work in the garden.
Our Saturday program focused on the Midvale Avenue garden. This session was mostly toddlers and pre-school age kids, so Suzanne and I worked on the spot to make it more accessible for those patrons. We focused on the color and shape of the plants to introduce those concepts, as well as why plants and flowers are thirsty and need water.
Gardening for Kids was a hit! All of the attendees stayed longer than expected and spent time in the gardens. The children and caregivers who attended the program now have a renewed sense of interest and ownership in the green space around the library. I’ve noticed more patrons stopping to admire the colors of the plants in our Calumet Street garden and spending time outside. I hope to continue to use these spaces in children’s programming as time goes on.
I was able to use the communication, connection and planning skills reinforced in the Community-Centered Libraries training to run a successful program that benefitted our library and our community. Enhancing the green space and natural beauty around the library keeps it maintained and also makes the library more welcoming and visually appealing. Gardening for Kids reinforces that the library and its green space belong to all of us and together we can work to keep it as beautiful as it looks now.
Next time you’re in East Falls, stop by Falls of Schuylkill Library  and spend some time in our gardens!
Skills for Community-Centered Libraries was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [Grant #RE-95-17-0089-17].