Monday, September 19, 2011

The Rewards of Volunteering

Kentucky Children's Garden
Nature Center in the Children's Garden

I volunteer at the Arboretum, the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky.  My “job” is to read picture books in the Children's Garden.  My “work place” is inside the Nature Center—a breezy, three-sided cozy structure.  The entrance is flanked by Greek Doric columns.  The side yard contains barrels brimming with scarlet and purple flowers.  Nearby, two raised vegetable gardens are teeming with tomatoes and peppers, lavender and sage.     

Map of the Children's Garden at the Arboretum

My guests arrive: in strollers, hand in hand with moms, or carried by dads.  Ashley, the education coordinator, hands me Frog and Toad Are Friends.  Before I begin to read, I give a short discussion on the differences between frogs and toads.  Then I read two chapters from the book—the average age of the children is about two or three years old so we're talking short attention span.   

Halfway into the reading, several young toddlers are distracted.  They want to explore the waterwheel, chat with other children, and touch the glass cages containing caterpillars.  Nonetheless I read on, trying to emphasis my words, trying to add as much drama as I possibly can to entice the children to listen. 

But others huddle close, their eyes fixed on me and on the pages of the book.  Some want to help turn the pages, while others lean their heads on my shoulder.  In a small way, I’m connecting with them.  Story time becomes  meaningful.    
What do I get out of it?  On a professional level, I like to think that this experience is preparing me for the day when I’ll read my very own picture book to a small group of children.  But I don’t focus on the future.  For now, I spread burlap bags for seating.  I sit upon a bale of hay and read a classic picture book.  And afterward, I receive smiles and thank-yous.  I receive parental requests: “When will you be reading in the garden again?”  I receive hugs from the tiniest members of my audience.  It touches my heart to share books at the arboretum.  What more can a story-time reader ask for?

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