Health in Motion: Phipps Discovery Education
This article is part of a series called Health in Motion brought to you by Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Health in Motion is intended to showcase the efforts of schools and community organizations in the Pittsburgh region that are leading children to a healthier future. A new project with a guest author or interviewee will be featured each month. Let’s Move Pittsburgh hopes that Health in Motion will encourage leaders to adopt healthy programs in their communities and inspire readers to make healthy changes in their own lives.
In this edition of Health in Motion, we spoke to Phipps' own Discovery Education Specialist Kelliann Walsh to learn how the Conservatory incorporates learning and nutrition into its exhibits!
LMP: You’re the Discovery education specialist here at Phipps. Can you explain what kinds of programs and activities your department offers for kids?
Kelliann: The Discovery Programs are Phipps’ family education programs. Our role in the Conservatory is to help guests, primarily children, to explore nature and the environment around them. We host educational programming throughout the Conservatory every day. Our programming extends outside to the Children’s Discovery Garden and Rooftop Edible Garden during the summer.
At our programming stations, we cover topics including the cycles of nature, pollinators, healthy foods and habits, interesting plants, and the interdependence between people, plants and animals. We explore these topics in a hands-on manner with families. Our goal is to start conversation and encourage engagement around the topic being presented. Some examples of engagement opportunities include pot-a-plant, where small plant plugs are potted and the basics of gardening are discussed, make-a-craft sessions with art made from natural materials, and fruit and vegetable tastings. It is drop-in programming, and we have a lot of fun!
In addition to our regular programming that runs from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily, we host scheduled activities on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. – noon.
LMP: The Conservatory’s Gallery Room features a Play Farmers’ Market and 5-2-1-0 hopscotch for children to enjoy. How does your department use this space to educate children on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles?
Kelliann: The Play Farmers’ Market was added in the fall of 2011 to supplement the healthy lifestyle education efforts of Let’s Move Pittsburgh. The space serves as a sister site to the Rooftop Edible Garden, where we host our summer programming about edible plants.
One of the greatest and most relatable connections we have to plants is food. With this motto in mind and the fact that we interact with thousands of families every year, we feel it is important to create opportunities that allow children and their families to explore healthy eating and healthier habits overall. The Discovery team helped in this effort by developing programming for these spaces, covering topics such as:
- Introducing children to healthier foods
- Using children’s natural affinity for play to introduce new ideas
- Utilizing picture and word association
- Promoting basic math and counting skills
- Promoting family reading with books that cover health topics
- Introducing families to gardening with our “featured favorite produce” which they can learn about at our Rooftop Edible Garden programming station
- Teaching container gardening basics
- Promoting interaction with plants
- Providing potting activities, harvesting and snack-making activities
LMP: Outside of the Gallery Room, Phipps has a Rooftop Edible Garden. How do you use this garden to educate children about nutrition?
Kelliann: The Rooftop Edible Garden is a wonderful space that lends itself to hands-on programming. To make the most of the space, we have a programming station and our own raised bed for planting and harvesting. We use these educational spaces to call attention to and explore the featured favorite produce of the week, connecting directly to the Play Farmers’ Market display of a featured fruit or vegetable for the week. This provides opportunities for children and adults to observe these important plants as they begin to grow and learn the tell-tale signs for when to harvest. We also provide nutritional information and lead harvest walks and snack-making activities. We like to send families home with simple recipes for snacks that use fresh produce.
An example of a harvest and snack making activity is our Salsa Saturdays series. When produce is available, we lead families through the garden to pick ingredients, prepare fresh salsa and have a comparison taste test between fresh and store-bought salsa. The fresh salsa is always the winner!
With our raised bed demonstration, we’re able to reinforce the fact that you do not need a large plot of land to grow these ingredients, and to demonstrate that fresh tastes better!
LMP: What are some other ways you incorporate health and wellness into Discovery Programs here at Phipps?
Kelliann: We promote wellness and physical activity in our Nature Play Garden. This space is meant for unstructured play in an outdoor environment. The activity areas of the Nature Play Garden include a digging pit, jumping logs, a maze and fort-building materials. Children use this space to build forts, test their balance, and role play with siblings and friends. The space allows children to explore a natural setting, use their imaginations and develop problem-solving skills.
We encourage alternatives to screen time by providing children with games and scavenger hunts for exploring the gardens throughout the Conservatory. And we also promote Let’s Move Pittsburgh’s 5-2-1-0 initiatives through programming that focuses on healthy meal options and healthy habits, including an annual collaboration with The Pittsburgh Marathon’s Kids of Steel Day.
LMP: What are some of your favorite activities to do with the children who visit Phipps? Which activities do the children seem to enjoy the most?
Kelliann: We enjoy activities that spark curiosity in children. Making seed necklaces, which allow children to watch bean seeds germinate because of the heat from their own bodies, is always a fun activity! We also get great feedback when we make natural dyes from plants in the garden. We make craft projects using these dyes and incorporate flowers and other plant material to make crowns and wands. Another personal favorite of mine is when children try new fruits or vegetables that we have grown and discover that they like them!
LMP: With spring in full swing and summer quickly approaching, what sort of Discovery Programs are on the horizon for children and their families to enjoy?
Kelliann: We are preparing programming that highlights our new glass exhibit; pollinator programming that explores the roles butterflies, birds and bees play in the garden; new Rooftop Edible Garden programs; and much more.