Regaining Wonder at The Dallas Arboretum’s Children’s Adventure Garden

The Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden is truly in a class all its own. The space is a modern marvel true to the saying that “Everything’s bigger in Texas”, as it seamlessly integrates technology and education into a rich, green space.

A giant gate wrought with leaves and butterflies distinguishes the children’s garden from the rest of the Dallas Arboretum in which it is located, lending to the sense that visitors are entering an entirely new space. Set against the calm of White Rock Lake, the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden has an audacious innovation about it: at times it feels like part of Spy Kids come to life (in the best way possible).

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The garden’s design is guided by a desire to educate, particularly around STEM topics relevant to modern living. To one side, an expansive deck is built over a small pond next to which it houses an exhibit on clean energy (funded courtesy of noted business magnate T. Boone Pickens). The interactive displays enumerate the merits of various alternative energies like solar and wind, and around the edge of pool there are cannons that allow kids to shoot water at targets, demonstrating hydraulic energy. Elsewhere, kids can build giant flowers, adding their own stamens or petals, or watch as lights trace how water is taken up through plants’ roots. The garden’s real centerpiece is its Exploration Center, which hosts chemistry and biology labs (complete with CSI-style mysteries) and an OmniGlobe (which looks like it is straight out of Star Trek).

The garden facilitates spontaneous, organic discovery and learning: a giant artificial tree surrounded with netting allows kids to peer out across the top of the park; an elevated walkway through the center of the garden carries visitors through the trees and offers binoculars to search for birds; a petroglyph wall invites kids to make up their own messages. Paths wander in unexpected directions and exhibits appear suddenly around corners. Along one edge of the space, a maze dappled with clues guides visitors towards a secret garden. Towards the center of the garden, a wetland housing native wildlife is crisscrossed with bridges and dotted with other observation points that allow kids to get up close and personal with the environment, noting small details. Beyond its innate structure and extensive programming and events, the garden is also a National Wildlife Federation-certified habitat; it’s also a certified Monarch Waystation. The space is far from the sterile solemnity of labs, defined by organic life.

Almost every exhibit at the Children’s Adventure Garden returns to the same idea that nature has something to teach us about how we can live– whether that is inspiration for architecture (one area displays famous buildings and their plant parallels) or lessons in math (the Fibonacci sequence is thoroughly demonstrated with accompanying plantings and the overhanging branches of a tall tree). Thorough and comprehensive in scope, it never feels imposing or imperious in its educational pursuits. Even as an adult, this garden is fun— if for nothing else than its ability to showcase what it’s possible to build while honoring Mother Nature herself.

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