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Luckily, this magical place is not "far, far away" - but located close by in rural Santa Rosa. Travel out in the country, down a small lane where rainbow pinwheels line your path. Look for sunflowers beckoning you to come into the enchanted gardens. Find Gail, lovely conductress of said magic. There she'll be with her warm smile inviting you to follow a trail through her hydrangeas, splash in paint, or make suds in an old laundry bin. Smiling Tree Farm offers wonder, excitement, and ample opportunity for a child's discovery.

Bryles and I ventured out to Smiling Tree Farm for our first time today.  Gail offered us a free class to come and check her out, and luckily I brought my camera!  We were wowed by our experience, which centered around an earthworm theme.  Our adventure began with a walk through Smiling Tree's willows, veggie garden, and exploration of two fish ponds.  To his particular delight, Bryles quickly discovered a collection of metal construction trucks in a gravely corner.  Other families trickled in until Gail rang a copper garden chime calling everyone to gather in a small meadow for circle.  After singing and learning about our projects for the day, Gail welcomed the families to enjoy the farm or explore the project tables. 

I was impressed by her casual air and the way Gail encouraged the children to come to their own experiences at their own pace.  It didn't take long for Bryles to discover the paint table where a "naked" cardboard "worm" waited for his artistic touch.  After a bit of focus, he was happy to try the swings, splash at the water table, and play trucks again.  He dabbled at digging for earthworms with the other children, but never quite completed the worm house building activity Gail set up at another project table.  With the laundry tub calling for him to make bubbles, who had the time?

After about an hour of open play and projects, Gail corralled the group again for a snack. She offered children a turn at her apple peeler, then handed out apple slices. Later, she offered fresh veggies and herbs harvested from her garden. This lady must have a magic wand up her sleeve as she had Bryles gushing over fresh basil and tarragon!

Gail Saunders says that opening her home, Smiling Tree Farm, is a natural extension of her past 30 years working with children and families.  Gail's dynamic approach to serving families is a unique mix of yoga, children's music (Music Together teacher), cooking, child development, and a deep love for little people.  Her experience shows!  Children immediately gravitate to Gail as her warmth and gentleness are magnetic, and help her accomplish her goal of offering a "natural and non-pressured environment in which to explore and learn."

Smiling Tree Farm is currently offering activities for 2-5 year olds as described here.  While I carefully budget my dollars and make few weekly commitments, I am happy to pay $20-$23 for this rich experience!  We walked away feeling refreshed by the farm, loved by Gail, and full of ideas about how earthworms help our garden.  Catch Bryles and I in next week's class or join us in September at Smiling Tree Farm for enchanting classes featuring baking, sewing, painting, and crafting. 


  1. Chert // August 19, 2009 at 5:57 PM  

    Hi Holly! We enjoyed meeting you this morning at Gail's. I am glad you and Bryles will be back.

    I second what you've written about Gail and her camp. This is our second summer and it's tough when we miss a week. Winter is great, too, with cozy mornings doing crafts and drinking tea. Gail still leads nature hikes, rain or shine.

    Also wanted to send on the link to that magazine I was telling you about: Cookie. It's hard to fathom spending hundreds of dollars on a Burberry trenchcoat for a three-year-old, but I like that they don't condescend to kids (or parents) and want to introduce them to "the good life." Lots of culture, cool party tips, vacation ideas, decorating.

    Looking forward to reading more on your blog...

  2. Grace // August 22, 2009 at 6:42 PM  

    WOW! That looks amazing. Magical indeed!

  3. Crissi // August 24, 2009 at 5:53 PM  

    What a great way to get kids interested in nature and their surroundings. That most definitely sounds magical! And I love the photos. Thank you so much for sharing this on my blog!

  4. T. McCallum // August 26, 2009 at 1:31 PM  

    Gail's is a gift! I am so glad you did a story on her. She is amazing in so many ways. Her creativity is immense, and her ability to provide a comfortable place for both children and adults is unparalleled. I don't know what we would have done for the last 3 years without her. SERIOUSLY! I don't want Smiling Tree to ever get too full for us to attend, but if you don't try it, you are really missing something special.

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