Message in a Milk Bottle: Creating a Geometric Community Garden

This blog post was written by Health and Wellness intern, Lilly Day. She is a graduate student from Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University pursuing a degree in Child Life.

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Each spring, the Health and Wellness Educator’s intern creates the Message in a Milk Bottle project, which centers on community building. This year, I had the wonderful privilege of designing and implementing this project. I wanted my project to represent spring and the exciting new possibilities that come with the season and to encourage children (and adults!) to contribute unique artwork; the combination of these ideas led to creating a Geometric Community Garden.

Real life community gardens offer individuals small plots of land within a larger designated area to grow plants of their choosing. Community gardens bring people together and often create a space for gardening that would not otherwise be possible in urban areas across the world. While implementing the Geometric Gardens activity, I provided handouts explaining a real life community garden in images and with developmentally appropriate language, along with suggestions of what is in a community garden. The suggestions included flowers and vegetables, but I also included images of rocks, topiary (shrubbery sculptures), and buildings to encourage participants to think outside of the box. The materials I offered for creating gardens echoed the visuals I provided in that they were open-ended; participants started with a piece of cardstock to act as a base in their representation of a garden. Gemstones, wood squares and ovals, multicolored felt cut-outs in a variety of shapes, brightly colored packing peanuts, and fabric samples were just some of the materials offered.

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In order to involve community outside of the Museum walls, I facilitated the Geometric Gardens project at Franciscan Children’s, Shriners Hospitals for Children – Boston, and The Campus School at Boston College. Each of these organizations serves children and families with special medical and developmental needs. By bringing the Message in a Milk Bottle project to them each year, individuals at these organizations have the opportunity to participate in a Museum event, and the visitors at the Museum have the opportunity to see and appreciate the individual creative contributions of individuals from different backgrounds and life circumstances than themselves.

Throughout late March and early April, I personally implemented the project at Franciscans and Shriners, and brought materials to the teachers at The Campus School to work on the project with their students. The activity was open to visitors at the Museum during April Morningstar Access, as well as twice during April vacation week, the theme of which was “Tell me a Story”. Before opening the activity up to Museum visitors, I began to create the Geometric Community Garden with contributions from those at outside organizations. As visitors completed their projects, they were encouraged to choose where their gardens fit into the community garden and tape them up themselves. With the display directly next to the activity, visitors could draw inspiration from projects that were already completed and appreciate the stories represented in each geometric garden.

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Although I designed this project with the idea of encouraging creativity in children across Boston, I was still in awe of their creations and surprised by the unique ideas and depth of stories contributed by each participant. A child at Franciscans made an ice cream garden; a child at Shriners made a pepperoni pizza on a stick garden. A child from The Campus School created a football garden; a child at the Museum created a button to operate an airplane with. Participants ranged in age from approximately 2 years all the way to adulthood; one father helped his newly 2 year old daughter to stick down objects and then interpreted her work as creating a tractor, and proudly added the tractor to the community garden display. Children created 3D as well as 2D gardens, and adults asked questions about the gardens, interacting with their own children as well as other visitors while in the Museum. The range of storytelling weaved into the creation of this Geometric Community Garden project was inspiring, and an exciting representation of the uniqueness that each of us has to contribute to our communal story.

As an intern, this project enabled me to develop skills in planning, organizing, and facilitating a large scale activity that reached children and families across Boston. I was able to enhance my professional communication skills and learn from the story of each child’s garden. As a person, this project reminded me of the excitement in allowing creativity to flourish, the benefits of community and teaching community ideals to children, and the beauty of using open-ended materials to create something new.

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