As the Children’s Program Coordinator for Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, Liz Glynn works to bring science to children. Her most useful tool for the job is her “bag of tricks.”
“It could contain anything, really,” she says of the bag she always brings on field trips. “I like to have magnifying lenses, so kids think of themselves as little scientists. I might have a flip book (that) we can look through and see if it matches what we see on the trails, or a field guide book. I might have pieces of bark and fake or real flowers or seed pods … or binoculars or a compass or a map.”
When she’s not coordinating or leading K-12 field trips, Glynn works on the Saturday Adventure programs, which are for youth and their families. She also runs the programs that give Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the Ann Arbor area a chance to earn their nature badges. All of Matthaei’s programs follow the Michigan standards for science, which Glynn says “tie their field experience with us to the classroom unit.”
The children are the best part of the job, Glynn says. “It’s super inspiring when the littlest ones, who don’t have social barriers yet, just fling themselves at you with unbridled joy. They’re just crawling all over you because they’re so excited to see this insect or watch those crayfish or learn about this plant.”
One of her favorite moments with children is hearing their explanations of how things work. Glynn and her team of docents try not to say no to the children’s hypotheses, but rather steer them in the right direction. “One little boy explained to me that the plants want to attract the butterflies because they’re pretty,” she says. “We often have to explain that sausage doesn’t come from sausage trees, and milk comes from cows, not milkweed.”
Her love for nature began when growing up in Saginaw and gardening with her family. It grew while studying environmental education at U-M. After her undergraduate degree, she worked in the cooperative community for 25 years, including at a bakery and as the head chef of Café Verde in Ann Arbor, and then decided to volunteer as a docent at Matthaei, which lead to her current position.
“I just have this natural curiosity about plants. I love learning about them, but when you actually grow things, you come to understand how they work,” she says of gardening, a favorite pastime of Glynn and husband Greg Keoleian. “Our vegetable garden takes up most of the front lawn — we have leeks, potatoes, broccoli, garlic, shallots, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, squashes, lots of different herbs, and then spinach, lettuce, carrots, beets,” she says of their selection, which is grown organically.
“Growing your own food contributes to individual food security, which everyone has the opportunity to have, even if it’s growing tomatoes in a pot in on an apartment balcony,” Glynn says. Nearly all of her meals include something from her garden, whether it’s the broccoli in a salad or the tomatoes and herbs in a spaghetti sauce.
Glynn and her husband have casually introduced many neighbors in Ann Arbor into gardening and often involve nieces and nephews who are visiting to learn about the plants. Sometimes they even pitch in, helping to pick peppers or water the plants. Gardening takes much effort, she says, but it’s something she enjoys.
She also swims and practices yoga in her spare time.
Glynn always has loved working with nature, both at home with neighbors and friends and at work with students and families. “People love beauty — it softens them up a little bit,” she says.
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Liz Glynn, children’s program coordinator for Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, on her job: “Our programs tie their field experience with us to what they’re doing in the classroom.”