Under the Willows

Photo of Ruth Pickering

Ruth Pickering, Founding Executive Director

Photo of Judy Boston

Under the Willows: An Arts-Garden-Play Program

  • Serves 25 children through a summer day program.
  • For children associated with any of the three partner organizations: Lynwood Charlton Centre, Hamilton Interval House and Catholic Children's Aid Society.
  • Run out of the Upper Paradise site.
  • Referrals are required from one of the partner organizations.

Program Objective

The goal of the program is to shift the focus from disabilities and problems, to the joy of possibilities and development.

Under the Willows provides the artists, materials, and physical-emotional space for children to develop their creativity and cooperation skills. With access to nurturing relationships, opportunities to explore the natural world and artistic expression, the children can experience themselves as whole unique persons with talents and abilities to offer not only in the Garden, but in their lives outside it!

Read the Under the Willow FAQs for more information.

A Brief History of Under the Willows... Where Children Grow

After having the good fortune in 1994 to participate at the Spiral Garden in Toronto, Dr. Ruth Pickering, a Child Psychiatrist and Narrative Therapist, was inspired to develop an arts-garden-play program in Hamilton.

The generous offer of the Board of Directors for Lynwood Charlton Centre to host the garden "under the willows" on the new site (open May 2002) provided the ideal setting and ready access for some of the children who would benefit from this unique outdoor developmental program.

Under the Willows is guided by Dr. Ruth Pickering, a retired Child Psychiatrist and community leader in Hamilton who has dedicated her life to children. With Ruth's guidance, Under the Willows evolved into a collaborative program among three original community partner organizations: Lynwood Charlton Centre (with which Dr. Pickering is affiliated), Interval House of Hamilton-Wentworth (a Hamilton-based shelter for abused women and children), and Niwasa Headstart Preschool (a preschool program which serves and is operated by members of the Native community). The partnership currently (2015) includes Lynwood Charlton Centre, Interval House and the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Hamilton.

With over three decades professional work experience with children experiencing serious adversity, including poverty, abuse, trauma, neglect, marginalization and deprivation, Dr. Pickering observed in 1994: “Whatever we do in these child service systems -- reducing risk, improving behavior, keeping the children safe, modifying their behavior, medicating their symptoms -- none of it is intentionally about bringing joy, stimulating creativity and imagination or having fun with them.” Sadly, children’s services (which are, by design, focussed on problems and ‘disabilities’) offer few opportunities for children to experience themselves as persons with abilities, of having personal agency, and of being seen to be persons of value.

Thus, Dr Pickering set out to develop the arts-garden-play summer program, Under the Willows.  There through the metaphor of the garden, challenged and challenging children could celebrate their interdependence within the natural world as the context for healing.

In re-focusing from disabilities and problems, to possibilities and development, the artists, the materials, and the physical-emotional context of ability, creativity, cooperation and mutual support provides an environment in which children extend themselves, develop and create. With access to nurturing relationships, opportunities to explore the world of nature and artistic expression, while working cooperatively with other children and adults, the children experience themselves as whole unique persons with talents and offerings not only in the Garden, but also in their lives outside!

Now entering our fourteenth year, we invite you to join us in assisting this unique developmental program to continue growing .... for our children and our community.

Please have a look at the FAQ’s for a deeper understanding of the program, its philosophy and values, a typical day, staff, how you can become involved and a few links that may be of interest.

Ruth Pickering,
Child Psychiatrist (M.D.) Retired,
Founding Executive Director,
Under the Willows, an arts-garden-play program ....where children grow

FAQs about Under the Willows

Canada Helps is an organization that raises funds on-line. You can help Under the Willows by making a donation with them.

Jody Boston biography

Upper Paradise Site
526 Upper Paradise,
Hamilton, ON, L9C 5E3

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