JP Kids: Arboretum a natural wonderland for children

Courtesy Photo
Cheryl Balukonis, volunteer guide, encourages her JP Head Start group to observe and draw some of the plant materials they collected during a field trip to the Arnold Arboretum last fall.

Families who go to the Arnold Arboretum have many places they can explore for free every day of the year. New signage has been installed to make it easier to explore the grounds of the Boston public park maintained by Harvard University, which also uses it for research.

The meadow just inside the main Arborway Gate attracts birds and pollinating insects in the spring. Trees from around the world display all kinds of different leaves, flowers and seeds children can collect from the ground. Children can see shapes and sizes of leaves that they cannot find anywhere else. Exploring the trunks of trees may lead to the discovery of an animal home. Several areas are wooded, giving children a sense of a wild place. At the ponds, great blue herons, turtles and frogs all appear as spring turns into summer.

“Children often mention how good it smells here!” said Nancy Sableski, manager of children’s education at the Arboretum. “For children who do not have many opportunities to get out and play in nature, this setting has so many intriguing places to get to know. I encourage parents to follow the lead of their children, who may be drawn to many things that parents might overlook. Children are fascinated by pine cones, huge leaves, nests in trees, colorful seeds, pond life, squirrel activity and the sight of common birds. We have all these things and so much more.”

Newcomers to the Arboretum can go the visitor center just inside the main Arborway Gate to start. The visitor center is open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Visitor center staff can assist the public in finding their way to seasonal attractions or answer questions at the end of the visit about something found on the grounds. Visitors may pick up a fun “Tree of the Month” self-guided activity to get started exploring. When the visit concludes, microscopes and hand lenses can be used to look more closely at plant material. Bathrooms are also located in the visitor center.

This spring the Arnold Arboretum will hold several Sunday afternoon walks and hikes for families who want to get to know the landscape. On Sun., April 13, the focus will be on finding signs of spring. May and June hikes feature each of the three hills in the Arboretum.

“My goal is to introduce families to parts of the Arboretum they may have never seen before. I also want to provide an opportunity for families to exercise together. Everyone is concerned about getting enough physical activity in their lives, and the Arboretum is well-suited for hiking in the city,” Sableski said. Registration for these hikes is requested; please call 617-524-1718 ext.160 to register.

The Arboretum also has several formal programs for Head Start children and Boston Public School groups. Trained volunteers take the children to special sites on the grounds to learn about trees and nature.

For more information about family programs, or to find out about volunteering at the Arboretum, contact Sableski at 524-1718 x163 or visit

Submitted by the Arnold Arboretum.

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