I am thrilled to have another wonderful guest writer here for the kinderGARDENS series. Meet Theresa Loe. She is the author of the blog Garden Fresh Living as well as the associate producer for Growing a Greener World a nationally televised PBS program!
She is also an urban homesteader who happens to have an amazing garden right in downtown LA. She is a certified Master Food Preserver as well as a published author...phew, I'm tired just typing all that!
What impresses me even more than Theresa's amazing accomplishments is her passion...
Her passion for getting kids out and into the garden, for keeping it local, and for gardening organically for the sake of the health of her family and the planet...now that is impressive!
So as I could go on and on her but I will shut up now and let Theresa talk about Lessons from the School Garden...
“We’re growing veggies AND composting at our school,” explains Dylan, a fourth grader at Center Street Elementary in Los Angeles, CA. He pauses and adds, “How cool is that?” Dylan’s school is currently creating an educational garden on campus and blending it with the school curriculum. One goal of the project is to use the garden as a curriculum integrator – eventually touching all topics of study.
To understand this project, it helps to first understand what an educational garden is. Basically, it is an outdoor classroom that is set in a working garden. It is a place where children can learn about science, math, ecology, language arts and even social studies. It can inspire writer’s workshops, art projects, nutrition awareness and increase hands-on science exploration.
An educational garden is a living laboratory where lessons are drawn from real-life experiences rather than textbook examples. A garden can teach children responsibility, cooperation, and a new appreciation for nature and ecology. They learn about environmental responsibility while cultivating their imagination. Many times, an educational garden will create lifelong gardeners, environmentalists and healthy eaters.
Gardens similar to the Center Street project are all over the country. Here in Southern California, many cities have at least one school with a garden. Most are trying to follow the success of The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California, a one-acre organic garden at the Martin Luther King Junior Middle School. That garden was started thirteen years ago by restaurateur, Alice Waters. Before the garden was implemented, the students there did not fully understand where their food came from. Now, they not only understand the growing process, they also eat the vegetables they grow. The Edible Schoolyard has become the model for other schools to follow.
Center for Environmental Health) have shown that contact with nature helps ease attention-deficit disorder, aids cognitive development, enhances creativity and reduces stress. The term “Nature Deficit Disorder” (coined by author, Richard Louv) is commonly used to describe the developmental problems cause by the lack of time outdoors. A school garden can be the springboard to get children and their families more connected to the outside world and reduce this condition.
But there is another reason that some schools are trying to get students outside. It is to balance what they feel are the effects of the “No Child Left Behind” program. Many schools have had to sacrifice some subjects (art, music, and environmental education) in order to focus more on the subjects found on the high-stakes tests (reading and math). With only so many hours in the school day, sometimes field trips and outdoor activities have been reduced to make room for test preparation. Balance has been hard to achieve. For this reason, a new movement called: “No Child Left INSIDE” is rapidly gaining in popularity. It is backed by a coalition that is setting up federal funding for schools to integrate more outdoor learning into their core subjects. Educational gardens are a part of that integration.
Given the current state of the economy and the fact that California schools are facing huge budget cuts, it is truly amazing that Center Street Elementary is able to develop this educational project right now. But they seem to have luck and perseverance on their side.
The school principal, Ms. Janicek and a team of hard-working parents have been planning this garden and applying for educational grants for years. The grants they won are specifically designated for an educational garden. This means that the money cannot be used for any other purpose or it must be repaid. So while the school is looking for creative ways to budget, the garden has funding and team of volunteers to make this dream happen. With the support of the community and the school district, Center Street students are gaining a wonderful opportunity.
Center Street is also tying the garden into their new recycling program. A group of parents formed a branch of an environmental group (Grades of Green) with the goal of reducing the school’s waste and educating the students on proper recycling techniques. This group, along with some 4th and 5th grade students are working closely with the Garden Committee to coordinate composting in the garden. During lunchtime, Grades of Green teach the students to reduce their waste and sort their compostable items in special bins. These bins are then wheeled to the garden for the students to compost. Center Street is becoming one of the greenest schools in the district.
“The students are already excited,” says Ms. Janicek, “And with the help of our parent volunteers, we will be able to continue this wonderful project!” Once the garden is up and running, parent volunteers will assist the kids with hands-on learning. No gardening background is required. They are trained and guided by the garden docents who oversee the garden.
Center Street is well on its way to creating a magical learning experience for its students. All that is needed now is a little sunshine, water and some packages of seeds.
Theresa Loe is a freelance garden writer specializing in organic, edible gardening and gardening with children. For more information on gardening with children, visit Theresa’s website at www.LivingHomegrown.com.
*****Those of you who would like to take a peek a Theresa's amazing urban homestead garden on her PBS show please go take a look here and let her know we appreciate all she does to promote gardening with children!
So what did you do this week to promote gardening with children?