When you get to Blue Lake Regional Park in Fairview, you’ll want to stay a while. There’s a lot to do at the 101-acre park: swim in the lake, play on the playgrounds or in the water spray ground, bike, boat, and play disc golf or games on the ball fields. Blue Lake is a virtual play-athlon of fun.
Blue Lake’s Natural Discovery Garden is another part of that play-athlon. Here, kids can turn over rocks to search for pill bugs, study a honeybee gathering pollen, dig for worms in a compost bin or step into an open slice of the “pizza garden.”
The garden is open for these discoveries during regular park hours, but this weekend and weekends through the summer, something special happens. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, educators Paul Sanford and Jennifer Richards turn it into an outdoor classroom.
“Some kids spend a couple of hours here,” Paul says, noting that many come play in the garden after wilder action at the adjacent water spray ground.
Play that teaches and rewards
Some kids become garden detectives. Nature bingo cards in hand, kids and adults look for such things as a yellow flower, dragonfly or fir cone to match the pictures on their card.
“Older siblings often help younger ones,” Paul says, “and some kids finish one bingo card and come back to get a new one.”
When they mark off four pictures in a row, they win a magnifying glass.
Weekly themes for hands-on learning
Other kids might be planting bean seeds to nurture at home, or peering at a water bug under a microscope. Each week focuses on one of four themes: soil, water, plants or wildlife. Paul and Jennifer chat with parents as they and their children learn together over activities like creating a seed mosaic, assembling a puzzle showing the life cycle of an animal, coloring in the Natural Garden Fun book, folding an origami flower or mixing up natural ingredients to make fertilizer to take home.
Each hands-on activity helps parents – and kids–learn simple techniques that help them care for their own backyards without pesticides, helping to protect the health of kids, pets and wildlife. If the week’s topic is soil, for example, Paul says, “We talk to parents about soil nutrients and the specific things that nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium do for a plant.”
Blue Lake Natural Discovery Garden is open during regular park hours, with guided activities 1 to 5 p.m. most Fridays through Sundays, June through August. Get park hours, family program dates, directions and more.
Also check out family garden activities at the Backyard Makeover exhibit at the Oregon Zoo.
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