I have always done my best to avoid falling back on clichés in my writing. Thus, I found it difficult to describe my volunteer experience at Snowy Nights in the Memphis Botanic Garden’s My Big Backyard on Friday evening. As the designated helper for the Giant Light Bright station, however, I really did see children’s faces light up. Their eyes were literally all aglow from the light diffusing through the colored water bottles they were happily arranging along segments of chain link fence. I think I even heard an occasional “ooh” and “ahh.”
I was already acquainted with the whimsy of My Big Backyard, but this was my first experience with Snowy Nights. For the month of December, the family-friendly garden space is strewn with Christmas lights and filled with a variety of hands-on, holiday-themed activities. While familiar Christmas carols play in the background, attendees can toast marshmallows over a fire pit, take a photo with the Snow Queen or the Gingerbread man, and slide around inside a giant snow globe.
The fact that parents brought their children out on such a cold, rainy night is a testament to the quality and popularity of this annual event. While I stood as close as possible to the propane heater set up at my station, families explored every corner of the garden. Several children who passed by were shy about approaching the Light Bright station until I gave them a demonstration. They then began designing with gusto.
One child spent a solid twenty minutes constructing a gorgeous diamond design while narrating the entire process to his amused parents. “He has a plan,” his mother assured me. Later, a toddler who couldn’t even tell me her name arranged four bottles in the order of the color spectrum. “You may have a tiny physicist on your hands,” I told her mother. “Yup,” she replied. A few of the adults jumped in to help here and there, and occasionally a child needed help snapping a bottle firmly into place. Mostly we just stood back and watched the creations take shape.
Eventually the rain prevailed and the staff had to make the call to close early for the night. I am thankful for the two magical hours I did get to spend at Snowy Nights, though. When I look at the children’s museums and other similar interactive learning environments that have sprung up in Memphis since I was a child, I have to admit- I kind of want to be a kid again.
Memphis Botanic Garden has tons of volunteer opportunities, even for those who don’t necessarily have a green thumb. Visit www.memphisbotanicgarden.com/volunteer for more information.