Children's Garden at arboretum opens; new fund set up for children's programs

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—The Arboretum at Penn State dedicated its new Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden on Sept. 7, and two members of the University community have endowed a fund in support of the educational programs that will complement the garden’s family-oriented design. The gift from Sandra Parker Hall and Dennis K. Hall, both holders of graduate degrees from The College of Education and long-time State College residents, marks a new phase in the life of the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden and its mission.

“From the beginning, the arboretum has been a destination for families who want to encourage their children to love and care for the natural world,” says Kim C. Steiner, director of the arboretum and professor of forest biology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “The recent completion of the children’s garden gives families a place where they can learn together about the landscape of central Pennsylvania, and through the Halls’ gift, we will be able to create experiences and memories for our youngest visitors that can lead to lifelong interest and enjoyment.”

Created through gifts from Penn State alumni and philanthropists Edward R. and Helen S. Hintz and Charles “Skip” Smith, the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden was designed as a microcosm of the regional landscape and its native plants, cultural history and geology. The Halls have contributed to the development of the garden through their support for the In and Out Creek and “Parker” the Caterpillar Bench, elements which have already become favorites with the hundreds of children who have visited the garden since its opening on July 7.

“We were inspired to support the children’s garden by our friendship with Skip Smith and his late wife, Marge; still, our gifts also reflect our own commitment to helping children and families achieve their full potential,” says Sandra Hall, a child/youth development specialist for Penn State Extension. Dennis Hall’s career has focused on the support and development of persons with disabilities, especially students with cognitive impairment. As practitioners, administrators, researchers, and mentors, the Halls have pursued the same goals that they see in the children’s garden, and as parents to two adult sons and grandparents to two (soon three) grandchildren, they value the opportunities that the garden offers.

“We believe in its possibilities, which are at the same time both educational and fun, and which serve to strengthen the bonds between children and their care providers in an environment of mutual exploration,” said Dennis Hall. Their latest gift will fund educational programs -- like the arboretum itself, free and open to the public -- that deepen the understanding of both younger and older visitors and make the most of the garden’s features, such as workshops on fossil identification. Dennis said, “We hope that the endowment we’ve created will provide an impetus, as well as an avenue, for others to join us in developing the educational programs in the children’s garden.”

For the Halls, a great satisfaction of supporting the Garden is the experience that they have as anonymous visitors, “watching the smiles and hearing the laughter of children engaged in creative play, as they learn about Pennsylvania’s geology, horticulture, native peoples, and so much more,” says Sandra. “Following animal footprints, seeing growing stalactites, having a tea-party at Mushroom Hollow -- this is the kind of magic that can happen in the children’s garden.”

For more information about the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden and The Arboretum at Penn State, visit

Last Updated October 17, 2014