Prescott College Affiliation : Alumnus
Program : Limited-Residency Undergraduate Programs
Area of Study : Integrated Art
Graduation Year : 2011
Area of Expertise : Early childhood education, expressive arts, childhood play, nature education
Business : Gartendale
Current Job : Director
Location : Flagstaff, AZ
As much as artist and educator Suzannah Libby loves children, play, art, and nature, it was a book that inspired her degree plan in the Limited-Residency Undergraduate Program. “I chanced upon my first of David Sobel’s books, Beyond Echophobia: Reclaiming the
Heart in Nature Education, while perusing the Prescott College bookstore during my [Limited-Residency Undergraduate] orientation,” writes Suzannah. “Up to that point, I simplistically thought children still generally played outdoors.”
She’s not kidding when she describes her new pre-school, Gartendale, designed and built as part of her mentored studies in Integrated Art, as “magically tucked into the heart of Flagstaff” offering “a unique garden and art-rich program designed to nurture the development of the inspired, creative and happy child in nature.” In its first year, Gartendale was voted “Flagstaff's Most Delightful Garden for Children" by the local chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society. Flagstaff writer Dana Smith visited Gartendale in full summer and described it in his blog The High Country Gardener this way:
“…a series of isles, not just plots, but raised islands floating in a sea of green grass amongst stream beds of smooth pebbles. Looming above, the canopy is a venerable maple and toward the back of the garden is an immense willow along with fruit trees…near the front is a bed, called the fairie garden, surrounded by a mud and wattle fence…like some kind of primitive dwelling with walls slightly askew and out of kilter, the bed is filled with berries, herbs, and flowers, a potpourri of tastes, sights, and aromas of lavender, mint, and lemon balm.”
In any season, this is just the child-sized environment Suzannah intended for free play, gentle crafts, story time, naps in the tea house, raking leaves, fresh fruit sandwiches, or a soothing cup of taco soup.
That nature and art are now considered ‘therapy’ for children concerns Suzannah. Meanwhile, state officials contemplate literacy standards and definitions of academic ‘rigor’ for three-year-olds. Suzannah, as a mother and long-time early childhood educator, sees things differently. “Nature, play and art offer a fruitful combination of essential ingredients in the life of the young child, fostering emotional health and laying the foundation for intellectual development,” she writes. “Functioning synergistically, they develop capacities of intelligence and creativity that form the basis for collective optimism and healthy cultural evolution. Art, play and nature have been central to the collective experience of human life. They have the ability to touch the soul, developing compassion and connection.”
When she’s not making hats with her pre-schoolers in the pixie garden, Suzannah is completing work on an illustrated book, Plum: Juicy Sweet Ideas for Life with the Little Child, which she wrote for her Senior Project.
Nature, play and art offer a fruitful combination of essential ingredients in the life of the young child, fostering emotional health and laying the foundation for intellectual development.
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