As featured in Gainesville Today Magazine, March 2010 (Column:  Education Matters)

It is developmentally appropriate for children to learn hands on and through their five senses. One of the most joyful ways is to plant seeds and watch them grow. Children are constantly drawn to smell, touch, and gather collections of leaves, seeds, flowers, and even insects. They are fascinated by the tiniest of things and watching a tiny seed gradually reveal itself as it grows provides a magical experience and can bring about a peace of mind.

Flowers
daffodils pop up
sunfl owers sway in the sun
dandelions blow
by Chloe (age 5)

Children as young as two years can and should have the opportunity to garden before they develop an aversion to nature. More often than not children are told not to touch something or put something in their mouths. All the attitudes that accompany the sanitizing trend have contributed to children being tactilely defensive. Many children today cannot tolerate putting their hands in paper mache or scooping seeds out of a pumpkin.

A class garden provides a perfect opportunity for the children to cooperate with each other for a common goal. Each child has a turn watering, weeding, harvesting and solving problems. Sometimes insects or squirrels, for example, may destroy some of the plants. Sometimes plants may be selected to attract butterflies. Ladybugs may be purchased and released to solve the pest problem naturally. All these decisions make wonderful class discussions.

The academic extensions are endless. A garden is an ever changing laboratory for fine tuning observation skills needed in every subject area. It is a ripe environment for graphing, measuring, journaling, researching, identifying, and vocabulary building such as whether a particular leaf’s shape is reniform, elliptical, or maybe spatulate.

Flowers
white, pink, red, yellow
rain, sunshine, fl owers to grow
happy, pretty earth
by Kayla (age 5)

A class garden is appropriate for all ages. This year, 4th grade students planted a variety of seeds and plants which tied in directly to core subjects. For example, when they studied Florida’s native Timucua people who used agricultural techniques to grow gourds for use as drinking vessels, students planted the same type of gourds in the class garden. This was one of the most exciting experiments, as the vines grew at an amazing pace and the giant fruit was something most students had never seen before. To connect with Spanish class they grew marigolds, which are the traditional flower of Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday to honor departed friends and family members. They used the marigolds to decorate the authentic altar they created in celebration of this holiday. Their gardening endeavors not only connected students with their core classes in a more meaningful way, but inspired them to learn more about plants and start gardens of their own.

Several students chose an experiment for their science project which involved growing plants. One student designed a garden and presented her design to the parent organization. It included a space for contemplation, a topiary of their mascot, as well as native flowering plants. As a school, we will work to manifest her gardening time also gave the children a chance to observe the changing seasons, the birds which frequent the schoolyard, and the types of trees and wildflowers that grow there. In a time when many children are focused on indoor activities, such as computer and video games, these students had a chance to experience the natural world in a more meaningful way. Rather than looking to nature and seeing woods, children can identify pine trees, oak trees, and native flowers. Rather than just seeing birds, children see more specifically robins, bluebirds, and others. In this way the gardening and exploration of the outdoors has served to enrich the students’ world view.

Garden
grass covered soil
digging, chopping, feeling good
planting seeds, growing
by Ahmik (age 5)

Some years back one of my elementary first through third grade classes’ garden experienced a very cold winter such as the one from which we are emerging. The children took their clipboards out to the garden to make their observations. They were all horrified to observe the results of the hard freeze. One child wrote: The beans are dead. The carrots are dead. The endive is alive. The ground is colder than the air.  And, yes, that pretty much summed it up.