By Mary Ellen Williams, Early Childhood Teacher
Sun, Soil, Water and Air, and a Little Bit of Prayer is the chant that leads us into the garden at HT. We know these are the very things it takes to grow a garden. And a lot of hard work, of course! The school garden provides fertile ground in which curiosity and exploration lead to experimentation, problem solving, applied knowledge and fun!
In your school garden, grow what your students like to eat. Take a vote. Then include a few they may not have liked in the past but may change their minds. Veggies fresh from the garden taste differently and many children are influenced by their peers’ excitement over something they enjoy! During phases of planting, tending and harvesting, students will naturally pull from their banks of knowledge for math and science. Children learn best and most enthusiastically when learning is relevant.
Planting is always a favorite activity. Staggering the planting schedule assures continued harvest and keeps interest in the garden high. Allow natural consequences to occur. If students are excited about digging cavernous holes for seeds, allow it. Then suggest they try a little more shallow. Label the two areas. You are introducing new vocabulary and the scientific process of discovery. Remember, this is supposed to be fun-filled and child-led! Planting lends itself to lots of counting, measuring, weighing and comparing. Have standard and non-standard tools readily available. Measuring tapes, yard sticks, old shoes, whatever is fun! Levels and pulley systems are great too. Children like BIG! Mark off days with slices of pool noodles threaded on a dowel while students wait for seeds to sprout. A sturdy camera is a must; it’s amazing to see the garden from a child photographer’s point of view.
Maintenance is a little trickier. It teaches patience and gives an appreciation for how much time and effort goes into that big juicy tomato. Watering is always a big hit, though. Have students submerge water cans into a large tub of water: “Hey where did that big bubble come from?”
Finally the harvest! Picking, pulling, counting measuring, comparing, washing, TASTING! Children who are not fans of certain veggies still like to take them home to share. Baggies full of tomatoes go home with a note of advice, “These left school as tomatoes. If they arrived home as salsa, just add onions and peppers and enjoy!”