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Missoula Garden Fosters Healthy Living for Kids and Wildlife
The kids at The Parenting Place have gone over the hill. And under it. Constructed last summer by volunteers, a tunnel and slide built into a hill in the backyard of the Missoula, Montana establishment has become one of the most popular outdoor features among the nonprofit’s young patrons.
“I like the tunnel because it’s easier to hide when we’re playing hide and seek,” said Konstanze, 8.
This new addition to the outdoor playscape is just one way the Parenting Place is actively engaging kids and families with the outdoors. A prominent garden in the front of the establishment offers further opportunities to connect with nature.
The Parenting Place provides child abuse prevention services to families through parenting classes and respite care. An important piece of this mission is the understanding that healthy living is just as important as nonviolent parenting.
The garden aids in these healthy living efforts. Kids also have the chance to pick their own food which serves as an incredible experience for them.
“It has an impact on the kids. They know about vegetables now. They know that they grow and that you can eat them raw,” said Program Director Loraine Bond. “It has an impact on the family when we can educate them about where their food comes from. When we have excess we send it home with the families. So, we’re feeding kids, and we’re feeding their families.”
The garden also attracts and supports birds, pollinators, and other wildlife as one of Missoula’s Certified Wildlife Habitats® in the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program. In doing so, it helps kids learn about different native plants and the wildlife that they support.
Access to the garden has fostered a new love for wildlife and a sense of stewardship within the children at The Parenting Place.
“They went from finding insects and stomping on them to rescuing them,” said Bond.
When asked what her favorite thing about the garden was, 10-year-old Alexia was eager to share. “It grows food and saves animals,” she said. “It helps insects like this bee.”
“Insects love The Parenting Place,” she added.
Bond’s next project for The Parenting Place is adding fruit trees inside their yard as well as a waterwise native plant garden. Both features will add to the already bountiful educational and healthy living opportunities provided to the community. Until then, the garden in the front, butterfly garden in the back, and the tunnel in the hill seem to be more than enough to keep the kids fully engaged with wildlife.
In one such instance of exploration during my visit, Konstanze inquired, “What’s this?” while inspecting a plant.
“Parsley! Try it! Take some of it and eat it!” Bond responded.
Konstanze happily obliged.
About the Author: Juliet Slutzker is an AmeriCorps member serving with the National Wildlife Federation in their Missoula, MT office as the Sustainability and Habitat Educator. She is working on expanding the Eco-Schools USA program in Montana as well as certifying Missoula as Montana’s first Community Wildlife Habitat. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and earned a Master’s degree in Biology in 2015 from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. In her free time, Juliet enjoys exploring the outdoors in her new home of Montana!