Maureen Radigan of The Child’s Garden on her Waldorf inspired, nature and arts-based pre-school, aftercare, and summer camps.

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Q: What is the Child’s Garden?

A: The Child’s Garden is a year round preschool, after care and summer camp for 2-12 year olds. (Preschool is age 2-6.) My mission is to connect children with nature, gardening, and to foster reverence for and stewardship of the land.

We’re small. I work with 8-10 preschoolers during the year, and 7-10 after care kids. The summer camp is probably 20-25 kids a day for 10 weeks. We’re trying to grow the program this year, I’m thinking of opening a second location “up island”. Right now I’m at 4460 County Road 48 in Southold, next to O’Mally’s.

Q: Are you from the North Fork? If not, how did you get here?

A: I was teaching high school arts in the Bronx. I was living in Ronkonkoma, and the commute was making me sick. Looking out the window, everything was all stacked together, I couldn’t see the horizon. I took a drive to Southold, and it was so beautiful, it reminded me of upstate (Buffalo), New York where I grew up. I just fell in love with Southold.

I wanted to do something that combined my love of the arts, teaching, gardening and the outdoors. So that’s how I came up with the idea of the Child’s Garden. I also have a background in early childhood Waldorf education, which is all art and nature based. I just felt so disconnected from nature in the Bronx. I only taught there for a year, though it felt like five, it was so hard.

I had an opportunity to rent a space and open my business through the Peconic Land Trust—I wanted to get into with farming and gardening with kids. So I rented the space and opened my pre-school in 2010. I started my summer camp in 2012.

Q: What’s a day like in The Child’s Garden?     

A: Let’s start with the pre-school, which is 9am -11:55 am.

Every single day, I cook with the students in the morning. We source locally grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible. We make a soup in the winter and early spring, and then it’s soup and salad, and then it’s more salad, sprouted seed, raw vegetables and fruit.

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The children get to work on a variety of skills prepping food for eating—peel, cut, chop, slice. We also forage—we have a greenhouse. The other day we made an arugula salad from arugula that was coming back up. That’s the first 20 minutes of the day.

We also have a project on the art table, our other table, that supports what we’re doing. The other day we made seed planters out of recycled materials, and today we planted Swiss chard and kale with seeds we saved from last year.

We have two outdoor playtimes each day. Outdoor playtime is the most important part of our curriculum.

The property abuts the Peconic Land Trusts Agricultural Center at Charnews Farm, and we have a garden there—they gave us a large plot that is now 40 raised beds. The kids are connected to the landscape and the seasons of the year by the journey they take every day to that garden.

img_0148They know where the blueberries grow, and the blackberries grow, and they love to connect with them during the seasons and over the years. They run to see the changes as spring turns into summer, will pick the budding fruit—use all their senses and make a connection that will last a lifetime. I take them to the garden almost every day.

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The kids also do a lot of composting. The scraps from our cooking go to the compost, they kids feed the chickens, when we’re planting they take a load of compost, put it in the garden.

Q: Wow; it seems your business is well named; that’s a lot of garden. Where does your connection to gardens and food come from?

A: My grandmother and my mother always had gardens, and my grandmother was Czechoslovakian and she took us foraging, we always were making jams and things.

I do canning and pickling with the kids too. We make lilac jam every spring. We collect lilac buds and then pour hot water over them and make an infusion, and then we turn it into jam.

Every Friday in the growing season we have family harvest when they can pick and bring home so they can share with their families. My hope is that they’re cooking with their families.

Q: What’s your after school care like?

A: After care is 3-6 pm, for age K-6. Some of those kids are as young as 4. I greet them with a snack, in the winter it is a hot snack. I don’t serve much packaged food. So fruits, soup.

They rest for a few minutes, then they have to do their homework, and they go outside if the weather permits. Then we do a seasonal art activity. I just finished up a block of weaving. Just like the preschoolers, they love planting, harvesting, picking.

Q: What’s your summer camp like?

A: It’s half-day (9-noon), ten week program, though you can do as little as one week. Each week has a different theme, and every year has an overall theme centered around bees. Such as Bee Creative, Bee Kind Bee a Good Friend,  Bee Inspired. One year it was Bee Yourself. This year’s theme is “Bee a good Neighbor”.

It’s so much fun. Kids from the city and kids from Southold get to know each other. They’re really making deep friendships. Kids from the city make a connection to the land and to this neighborhood.

Q: What are some of the themes?

A: Each year is a little different. But certain ones repeat each year: hula hoop camp with Diane C, an herbal camp taught by Sarah Shepherd, yoga with Mary Hasel, and two weeks of eating from the rainbow taught by me.

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We cook, focusing on different color of the rainbow every day. On green day we made pesto and pickles for example. img_0721
This year we’ll do food from a specific country each week, while still eating from the rainbow. And the crafts will come from that country.

I teach art at camp—last year I did a week on puppetry and performing objects and the kids really loved it, we made shadow puppet theaters and staged a play for the parents.

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Q: Art seems to be an important component; what’s your background in art?

A: I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 2004-2006 as an older student. When I went to school the first time it was Maryland Institute (MICA) Art—it didn’t work out very well for me, I finished the year and dropped out. I was really disillusioned by what the art world really was.

I had gotten married, had kids. I lived all over the world—my husband was in the military. We sadly divorced.  Then 9/11 happened—I was in Arizona, working on some paintings, murals in all the rooms in our massage therapy building—I was a massage therapist at that time. I read an article about a student at Pratt, who watched it from the roof of her Brooklyn building. I got really interested in Pratt and reconnecting to NY.

My teacher at Cochise College encouraged me to put a portfolio together and apply, so I did. They accepted me, and I finished my degree; I got my bachelors in art and design education and a minor in art history. It was great preparation for what I do now.

Q: You started this path because you found teaching in the Bronx empty. Are you happy with this path?

A: I love what I do. I feel like my life has so much purpose. There’s a whole movement out here for slow food, and teaching that to children. And Southold–what a perfect environment for it. So many things grow here. Did you know people even grow kiwis here?

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