Basics DeKalb County’s toddler gardens offer free programs, education and play

DeKALB – Taylor Price of DeKalb and her children, 6-year-old Buddy and 3-year-old Lucian, love spending time together outdoors, which is why they attend programs at Basics DeKalb County’s toddler gardens.

“It’s a way for the boys to socialize and make new friends,” Price said. “They also learn how to be gentle with plants and to respect nature.”

The first program of the year at DeKalb’s toddler garden was held Thursday, May 12.

Basics DeKalb County, a program of the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, has three toddler gardens: Welsh Park in DeKalb, Knights Park in Sandwich and Chamberlain Park in Genoa.

Welsh Park, 651 Russell Road in DeKalb, opened in 2020 and offers a program at 10 a.m. every Thursday.

Knights Park, 1001 N. Latham St. in Sandwich, opened in April and offers programs at 10 a.m. the first, second and fourth Fridays of the month and the third Saturday of the month.

Chamberlain Park, 400 E. Second St. in Genoa, will open in June. No programs have been scheduled yet for the third toddler garden.

Each garden has unique features: Genoa’s has a sensory wall, Sandwich has a sensory bed and colorful rocks to dig for, and DeKalb’s has a dirt digging site and sensory and edible gardens. All of the toddler gardens feature a musical component.

The toddler gardens are free and open to the public to visit and play at during park hours.

Coordinator Cary Allen said the toddler gardens are rooted in the five basic ways to educate young children: maximize love, manage stress; talk, sing and point; count, group and compare; explore through movement and play; and read and discuss stories.

“The basics are evidence-based ways, simple things parents and caregivers can do with littles to promote brain growth and school readiness,” Allen said. “The gardens are full of activities and teachable moments. Our target audience for the gardens’ programs are ages 0 to 5, but everyone is welcome to come.”

There are a variety of programs offered at the toddler gardens.

“The goal is to offer a hands-on experience and teach problem-solving skills,” Allen said. “The topics vary and change. All of the programs are free, with no registration required.”

Cheryl Larson, a Master Gardener with the University of Illinois Extension, led the May 12 program about seeds. The program featured songs, the reading of two books, the science of how a seed grows into a plant and hands-on seed planting and gardening activities.

“Kids often don’t know where food comes from, so teaching them about seeds and gardening is important,” Larson said. “It teaches them to see the beauty of plants and helps them connect with nature and the cycle of life. I think it also makes kids highly interested in a new subject. Now they can grow things at home, they will be able to notice seeds and flowers and will be more aware and observant of nature.”

Hayley Flores of DeKalb’s daughter Andie Lawson-Flores, 5, learned how to plant and water daylilies during the program.

“This is our second year attending Basics’ programs, and we really enjoy them,” Flores said. “It gets [the children] exploring, learning and building friendships. I think it’s important to get kids learning as early as possible. It’s nice that all of the programs are free, open to the community and local. I’m glad that we have the garden and programs right here in DeKalb.”

“We love the Basics programs and spending time in the toddler garden,” Jenn Marsolek of Sycamore said. “It’s nice to get outdoors for events. They’re really fun and educational. It’s a good way to spend your morning.”

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.