Nazneen Kane, Ph.D., was working in her backyard garden with her daughter one evening. Other neighborhood children volunteered to help, and the project became an afterschool ritual, with up to 12 children of varying ages digging, planting and weeding.
Kane, assistant professor of sociology at the College of Mount St. Joseph, which will become Mount St. Joseph University on July 1, says this project served as the inspiration for the Enchanted Garden at the Mount.
The Enchanted Garden is an early childhood summer camp designed for children ages 3½ to 5. The camp offers a balanced and holistic approach to early childhood development, and is a collaborative effort between the Mount’s department of sociology and social work and the Charlotte Schmidlapp Children’s Center at the Mount.
“I imagined a world where every child could have equal access to experiencing the meaningful work that connected them to the earth, their communities, their bodies, and to one another,” she said.
Kane collaborated with the Children’s Center at the Mount to craft a camp that focused on social and emotional development through natural exploration and gardening. The camp also serves as a training site for Mount sociology and social work students interested in careers working with children.
The pilot program was launched in June 2013, and this year they received a $930 Summertime Kids grant from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation that would allow them to offer scholarships to children in low-income families.
Summertime Kids grants provide support for programs that are enriching and fun for children during the summer months. Grants of up to $1,000 are available to nonprofit organizations that are working with the young people of Cincinnati.
“Equality of access to childhood enrichment programs is a central component of the project for me, especially given the high child poverty rate in Cincinnati,” Kane said. “Early childhood education is so important, and this camp helps to really reinforce those skills that the kids should be developing at this age.”
Enchanted Garden offers an alternative approach to early childhood by applying evidence-based social science research in an applied setting.
“It has developed almost seamlessly into a beautiful collaboration between sociology and the Children’s Center in ways that address childhood social inequality and deficiencies in early childhood programming, while also training up a new generation of child practitioners,” she said. “Another important component of the project was to emphasize social and emotional capacities because they are so overlooked in the majority of early childhood programs.”
The camp took place June 2-6, 2014, and offered a wide variety of activities for the children, including garden play with child-sized wheelbarrows and shovels, water obstacles, outdoor play, arts and crafts and summer stories, and songs.
The College of Mount St. Joseph is an undergraduate and graduate Catholic college that provides an interdisciplinary liberal arts and professional curriculum emphasizing values, service and social responsibility.