What a great harvest Suzanne's fifth grade had for their salad party at Thomas Hooker School in Bridgeport last Monday. It was the culminating activity of the "Living off the Land" Science Unit. At the end of August, on the first gardening day this fall, the students created a three-by-twelve foot bed on the south side of the school's front entrance. They planted several kinds of radishes, kale, three kinds of lettuce, pac choi and red giant mustard. Just over two months later, the vegetables were plentiful enough to provide salads for more than thirty hungry students, the principal and other teachers.
Suzanne uses the garden as a context for interdisciplinary studies. I volunteer at Hooker School once a week to teach a lesson, and help with hands-on gardening activities. The students are always anxious to go outside and get to work, but first we have to explain and organize our activities. This provides an opportunity for a lesson in soil, compost or plant-science. The students receive a "Lab Report" to complete for homework, and then outside we go.
What energy the children have for the garden! Visitors are impressed by the enthusiasm they direct toward a positive activity, and by what they know about gardening. We all learn by doing.
Suzanne believes that their love of gardening is a survival instinct. Many of them have strong family connections to farms and the land in other parts of the world. Often students who have difficulty in the classroom really shine in the garden.
So far this year, the fifth graders have harvested garlic, potatoes and flowers (which were planted by last year's class in the spring). We've built a cold-frame over the greens bed, expanded the garden and planted garlic and winter rye. We intend to plant flower bulbs as well. The students also visited Warrups Farm in West Redding to harvest pumpkins, feed pigs and walk in the woods.
All of these activities provided a very real and engaging context for learning across the curriculum. A literature theme of "In the Wild" addressed issues of the environment, ecology and land use. The garden provides many practical math and social studies lessons, too.
More and more schools and teachers are using garden-based learning as a motivating and engaging adjunct to their curriculum. Cornell University is helping to create school gardens in New York City in order to improve child nutrition and eating habits. Teachers in Meriden, Connecticut are taking advantage of the freedom afforded by a remote classroom in a trailer by gardening.
During Monday's lesson, one student wondered why plants were so important to me. I threw the question out to the class, and we soon discovered that without plants, we wouldn't have any food or oxygen. Then they understood why plants are so important.
In the Thomas Hooker School Garden, This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.