Tag Archives: summer learning

It Takes a Village

The culminating festival for the Garden of Fire was a tremendous success from every aspect.

It takes a village,” as they say, and the program and festival could not have happened without all the amazing educators, artists, and community volunteers. We were delighted to have parents join us in celebrating their children’s accomplishments. The youths are the heart and joy of the program with their enthusiasm and eagerness to try new things.

The Garden of Fire: Summer of Water ironically took place during weeks of severe drought and heat in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Each week of programs centered on topics including nature, growing cycles, healthy food, and art – highlighting the connection to water, importance of potable (drinkable) water, sounds & rhythms of water through music, reliance on water for life on Earth, and water pollution and conservation.

Suddenly, three days before the festival we were surprised with a series of thunderstorms and downpours. The much-needed water finally came! Naturally, we were a bit worried for the festival, BUT the morning of the celebration the dark clouds cleared and the sun shone bright and hot!

Kids reveled in all the water-themed activities, live music, art displays and games which opened and closed with a special ceremony.

In closing, we thank everyone who contributed and we look forward to 2017!

Amy Ruza
Education Programs Coordinator
The Rockwell Museum

The Power of Water

This year’s theme is Water, and what a fantastic, flexible, flowing theme for the summer! Water is one of the most attractive of the elements – who doesn’t want to dip their toes in a stream, splash around in a stream, put their hands under a waterfall?

Water is powerful in two ways – it is a dynamic force with unique physical and chemical properties, and it is a constant reminder of our connection to the rest of the life on our planet.

Now, “unique physical and chemical properties” sounds cool to me, but it doesn’t necessarily fall that way on a kid’s ears. The trick to get them turned on to the awesomeness of water is to bring in our animal ambassadors, and encourage the kids to imagine how our animals use, adapt to, or even defy the powers of water in their daily life. The kids know how frigid winter can be here in New York, and how dry a summer drought can be. How do our amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals survive in a constantly changing environment?

The states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas – may not seem that exciting in a textbook. But when kids can see a grey tree frog up close and learn how this tiny creature changes his whole body chemistry to prevent the water in his cells from turning to ice and bursting his cell walls – that adds wonder and awe to what the youth know about two hydrogens and one oxygen molecule.

Talking about and meeting our animals also encourages the kids to reflect on their own bodies, and how important water is to their survival. The water in our cells connects us to the grey tree frog, and to the lettuces and tomatoes growing in the gardens. In each living being on the planet, H20 is circulating. Humans are breathing it out as water vapor; trees are transporting it through xylem and phloem. The Garden of Fire program provides room for kids to appreciate the strength of water in its different physical states, and the inspiration of water as a bond between all living things.

Water unifies, strengthens, and nourishes the children in the program – not just quenching their physical thirst or plumping the peppers they will harvest later, but also provoking questions and inspiring reflection on our responsibilities to each other and to the rest of the life on our planet.

Bridget Sharry
Community Relations Manager
Tanglewood Nature Center and Museum


Photos courtesy of Dan Gallagher Photography

Science & Art

What is the connection between science and art?

This is the type of question that adults might ask when they hear about the Garden of Fire summer program. We have been taught to see science and art as antithetical. Science is objective while art is subjective. Science is a product of reason and art is a product of emotion.

Garden of Fire challenges those assumptions.

The impulse to make art may start out with emotion, but there is a lot of rational thought that goes into making a piece of art a reality. The artist deals with materials whose physical properties determine how they can be used. Like scientists and engineers, artists are constantly pushing the physical limits of their materials – inventing new ways for the materials to be used. As with science and engineering, invention requires mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

On the other hand, we imagine science as a bloodless pursuit devoid of emotion and passion, but this is not the case. Scientists are creative and inventive, asking questions about common sense assumptions and breaking boundaries. Like art, science can be disturbing, exciting, awe inspiring.

The students involved in the Garden of Fire don’t think about art and science this way at all. They haven’t fully absorbed society’s message that there is a deep divide between the two endeavors. They’re just having fun learning.

Garden of Fire summer program launches next week – and we couldn’t be more excited!

Connie Sullivan-Blum
Executive Director of The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes

The Life Cycle of the Chicken

This week’s Garden of Fire adventures were held at the CareFirst facility and centered around symbology, and how kids can connect to a symbol to represent themselves.


At first the kids sat silent, not sure what symbology meant, but  as the discussion went on, on students found ways to connect.  Across the board, the favorite symbols were spirals and trees.

One of the students chose the spiral to represent the life cycle during the decorating of the flags.  He asked me as he drew:  “Can I do the lifecycle of the chicken?”  He then explains the egg, the chick, the chicken and a blank section… fried chicken.  I pause, and of course giggle a little, not sure how to respond.

It may offend some, as we all make choices in what we eat and many choose not to eat meat.  We talk a bit more and he tells of the chickens his family raises for eggs and meat.  This is how he and his family choose to live and it’s wonderful to be grateful for the meat and truly understand the sacrifices and not just go to the store to pick up a package. leespearyphoto300care1st-35

I tell this story because Garden of Fire is a place where these students can be themselves.  They are not being judged or having to fit into the preverbial box.  These symbols represent him and his family.

One of the goals on the program is to teach gardening and science.  If more children had the experience of really knowing where all their food came from, and the work that is put into a simple slice of bread, our world would be a better place.

Emily Hofelich
Executive Director
Friends of the Addison Youth Center, Inc.

GoF Featured in NYSAN Learning Brief

We’re very excited to be featured in the New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) Learning Brief highlighting summer learning opportunities across the state. Find the full brief and additional fact sheets here. Find us on page 5!

We couldn’t say it better ourselves, so here it is straight from NYSAN:

“There is a well-documented need for a statewide, coordinated system of youth programs that operate outside of school hours, including before and after school, and during weekends and other school breaks, to provide high-quality, enriching experiences that contribute to the learning and healthy development of youth. Given their sizable impact on young people, summer learning opportunities must be a critical component of this system. However, far too many children have little or no exposure to the safe, supervised learning and enrichment activities that summer programs can provide.

“Summer experiences help meet the needs of all children; this is especially true for children from traditionally underserved communities, including children of color, those from low-income families, and children living in rural areas. Research shows that summer learning loss is a significant contributor to the achievement gap; students from low-income families typically lose two to three months in reading achievement and two months of math skills during the summer months.

Far too many children have little or no exposure to the safe, supervised learning and enrichment activities that summer programs can provide.”

Well said! And Happy Friday!