Mercer Offers Learning Beyond the Classroom

Mercer’s Education Director Jennifer Garrison is on a mission to get children excited about nature and learning about botany.

“We’re encouraging children to trade in their textbooks for flowers, bees and trees this summer,” said Garrison. “My goal is for children to really develop an enthusiasm for nature that can benefit them through adulthood.”

A former math and science teacher who taught for more than a decade, Garrison started out playing school with her younger brothers before turning her love of teaching into a career. One of her defining moments came early on when she developed and implemented a science partnering program between eighth grade students and pre-kindergarten students.

“After the eighth graders learned about concepts in the classroom, they would present hands-on science activities to the younger children,” she said. “One experiment in particular never failed to get a reaction. I’d get the children to pour baking soda in a balloon and vinegar in a flask. When I finally let them mix the two, the balloon would expand. That’s the kind of hands-on experiments that make learning fun.”

Garrison’s success developing curriculum eventually inspired her to pursue education beyond the classroom, leading her to become a textbook editor and then Mercer’s education director in 2014.

Although not in a conventional classroom, Garrison insists she’s never stopped teaching. Now, she’s working to bring a fresh new perspective to Mercer’s summer program. Designed for children entering kindergarten through fifth grades, Mercer’s Garden Explorers summer camps feature three days of crafts, games and activities for each grade level, held every Tuesday through Thursday, July 14 through July 30 from 9 a.m. to noon.

“Children need hands-on experiences to keep them active. I have a lot of brief activities planned. We’ll be hiking, going on a garden safari and working with scientific tools used by professional botanists,” she said. “I try to make sure my lesson plans include something children can recognize, so they can take that knowledge to a new level.”

Best of all, the program offers something different for each age group so children can return every year and either learn something new or build upon what they learned the year before, she said.

The program is part of Garrison’s overall goal to expand the children’s program at Mercer.

“There are so many learning opportunities here. Families should definitely be on the lookout for more fun programs coming out of Mercer,” she said. “At Mercer, children are encouraged to observe bugs and get their hands dirty.”

Registration for the Garden Explorers summer camps opens Monday, May 11 and space for each session is limited, so make a reservation today by calling 281-443-8731. A suggested donation of $30 is requested to cover the cost of materials, which is due at the time of registration. Participants must be dropped off between 8:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. and picked up at noon each day.

With leadership from Commissioner R. Jack Cagle, Mercer Botanic Gardens is a Harris County Precinct 4 Parks facility located one mile north of FM 1960 at 22306 Aldine Westfield Road in Humble, 77338. For more information on Mercer’s upcoming programs, contact Mercer at 281-443-8731 or visit www.hcp4.net/Community/Parks/Mercer.