The Arboretum at James Madison University is years away from funding a succinct family garden, but it remained important to them to find a way to heartily welcome families to their woodland oasis. Enter “family moments” – contextual, low-key, natural learning stations that encourage children and their caregivers to explore the woodland together. These moments were coined “At Home in the Woods” strengthening a theme that emerged during stakeholder discussions. The group wanted to highlight all life, both flora and fauna, that calls the woodland their home. But they also wanted children of the Shenandoah Valley to realize that the woods are their home too, their native landscape and their roots.
At Home in the Woods is divided into two zones: Little Legs Loop, for younger children and their caregivers and Young Explorer’s Trail for older youth. First stop along Little Legs Loop is Soil Builders, where children are invited to investigate the forest floor and discover who is at work making soil. Creature Comforts offer children the natural tools they need to create places for woodland critters to live, sleep and play. Track and Trace Trail, part of the Young Explorer’s adventure, encourages youth to search for tell-tale tracks and scat on the forest floor. The Treasure Wall is a natural “message board” that provides a spot for youngsters to tuck woodland treasures for the next guests to find. Sycamore Flat introduces the magnificent giants of the Shenandoah Valley, inviting guests to explore their bark, leaves, flower and fruit on a themed canopy walk.