Smiling Tree Summer Camp – a Parent Child Experience We Won't Miss


Can you believe school is winding down and summer vacation is just days away?  The start of summer break begins a transition into a  new rhythm for our family.   We’ll be hanging out in our backyard more often, tending to our growing veggie patch, squeezing in a few camping trips, and taking care of our dear friend’s daughter several days a week.  Most importantly,  we’ll be putting school and work aside to spend more time together.  I’ve got exciting plans for some special mommy and kid time, including a four week session at Smiling Tree’s Summer Camp.

Many of you know Gail Saunders, and her famous warm smile.  Gail says opening her home, Smiling Tree Farm, is a natural extension of her past 30 years working with children and families.  Her 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.”

This summer, Gail put together a fabulous experience for families.  “This parent/child class is a sweet mixture of laid back preschool, a visit to grandma’s house and an outdoor adventure.  This is a place for kids to explore and create with paint, glue, play dough and all sorts of art supplies, have fun with real cooking, listen to stories and play with friends,” shares Gail with delight.

We’ve come to know Gail and her Smiling Tree activities very well over the past year.  Our past adventures included walks 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, and returns their often for serious boy play.  We’ve learned to listen for Gail’s ringing of 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 welcomes the families to enjoy the farm or explore the project tables.

I am always impressed by Gail’s casual air, and the way she encourages the children to come to their own experiences at their own pace.  It never takes long for Bryles or the others to discover the project tables where something like paint and a “naked” cardboard “worm” (actually an old paper roll) waits for their artistic touches.  After a bit of focus, the kids are always happy to try the swings, splash at the water table, and play trucks again.  Later, they may dabble at a garden activity like digging for earthworms,  but they can easily flow in and out of free and structured play.   With things like the laundry tub calling the kids to make bubbles, who can stay at any one thing for long?

After about an hour of open play and projects, Gail corrals her groups again for a snack.  She often offers children a turn at her apple peeler and hands out apple slices or passes around a colander full of cherry tomatoes, spinach or basil  for tasting.  This lady must have a magic wand up her sleeve as she had Bryles gushing over fresh basil and tarragon!

Smiling Tree Camp will follow much of the same routine.  “This will be primarily an outdoor experience.  We’ll start each class with an informal circle time on the lawn including a few songs and maybe a story and a little yoga.  Then everyone is free to explore and do the projects which will be set up for the kids to do with their grown up at their own pace.  This summer I’m planning lots of gardening for the kids to help with and yoga on my new outdoor yoga deck ‘studio’.  Bring a lunch and we’ll all gather together on the lawn for a picnic and a closing story,” encourages Gail.

I jumped at Gail’s offer to trade me some camp time for Sono-Ma advertising, as we are committed to community sharing and trading to fill our family’s needs. We also thoroughly enjoy every chance we get to follow Gail on a trail through her hydrangeas, splash in her paints, or to join her in making suds in an old laundry bin.

Mark your calendars and reserve a spot.

Camp this summer will be Tuesdays, June 8th – 29th,  July 6th-27th, August 3rd-24th and

Wednesdays, June 9th-30th, July 7th-28th, August 4th-25th.

Camp will be 10am-12noon,

$80 for a 4week session (drop-in $25) with a sibling discount – babies no charge

Smiling Tree Farm offers wonder, excitement, and ample opportunity for a child’s discovery. Catch Bryles and me in July’s Wednesday sessions for Smiling Tree Farm‘s  enchanting classes featuring baking, sewing, painting, and crafting!

Cloverleaf Ranch Summer Camps

15 Responses

  1. Karla

    Posted: June 4, 2010 at 10:39 pm |

    Alright! You talked us into it! I just emailed to register!

  2. Sono-Ma: Holly

    Posted: June 4, 2010 at 11:13 pm |

    Oh, Karla! How wonderful! Your family will love this!

  3. Karla

    Posted: June 5, 2010 at 3:11 pm |

    I’m going to try and get in on the session you and Bryles are in. Give the boys some ‘guy time’. ;)

  4. Jill, The Veggie Queen

    Posted: June 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm |

    I’ve known Gail for years since we both taught classes at Finley Center together. Fairly recently I ran into her again at yoga class. She has amazing energy and complete patience with kids. If my son were younger, he’d be spending time with Gail this summer. I am sure that it will be great.

  5. Sono-Ma: Holly

    Posted: June 7, 2010 at 6:26 pm |

    Thanks for your kind words, Jill! Your classes and extensive website are another great resource for parents.

    Parents – please take a moment to discover vegetables all over again at

  6. Anna Hopkins

    Posted: June 8, 2010 at 6:16 am |

    We have loved Gail’s classes!!!! There is wonder there, and calm away from the chores and mess, etc that can make home feel chaotic. It invites me and my child to explore together and take a respite from the daily grind of whatever power struggles or the like we might be going through and truly enjoy one another and enjoy the day we have been given.

    • Sono-Ma: Holly

      Posted: June 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm |

      Dear Anna,

      Isn’t it great to have a fun experience (sans chores and mess) with your child? It sort of makes you fall in love with them all over again, doesn’t it? Thanks for sharing!

  7. gail

    Posted: June 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm |

    Hi Holly, thanks so much for featuring Smiling Tree Summer Camp on your website and as I noticed on the The first day of camp was yesterday. We picked fava beans and the kids harvested and ate all the ripe strawberries. It was great because the group of kids who planted the strawberries last spring where here this year to pick and enjoy the fruits of their labor (play). Thanks to Jill and Anna for their comments too. I remember Jill teaching a vegaterian cooking class as I set up for an afternoon tea party (full of sugar, butter and lace). Anna started coming to classes with her older son when I very first started my fun business and now she finds (makes) time to spend special one on one with Drew, her 4 year old.

    Life is good! Thanks

  8. Susan

    Posted: June 13, 2010 at 3:52 am |

    We LOVE Gail & her amazing camp too. Great to see her get the appreciation/recognition she deserves! Her camp is really this little slice of magic she creates where a child feels completely encouraged to be a child. At the same time, the parent gets to witness their child explore & learn about nature, art, food and life. Talk about feeling like you’re providing quality experiences for your children! Some of our favorite camp memories include many fun art projects, petting the bunny, feeding the horses, planting seeds, picking the crops, and (of course) eating the crops. Who knew my daughter liked Chard? So much fun it kinda makes me feel like a kid again too (especially without having to clean up all the mess, may I add)! We will be signing up for a session again soon.

    • Sono-Ma: Holly

      Posted: June 13, 2010 at 12:44 pm |

      Thanks, Susan for sharing your stories and memories about the magical Smiling Tree. I’d almost forgotten about feeding the horses and planting seeds! The kids really do love those hands on experiences, don’t they?


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