School gardens & the future of education

On the plane back from Oregon I still got the middle seat, but my aisle neighbor was a delightful, not-too-talkative young mommy who found her own seat belt and had no service dog. My window neighbor was a large man drinking Heinekens who ate a whole can of Pringles, then snored and drooled. But the delightful mother of five had children attending Stonewall Jackson Elementary in the Dallas school district. We talked about the value of school gardens to inspire kids in studies across many subjects.
Stonewall Jackson's 20,000 square foot garden is one of the most acclaimed school gardens in the country, but in 2008 the Dallas Independent School District eliminated the position of Mark Painter, the gardener/outdoor lab science teacher. School parents and area businesses had to form a 501c nonprofit, Stonewall Gardens, to keep Painter employed and the garden going.  It figures. If something is working in our schools, cut the funding, quick!

Remembering the in-flight conversation I stopped at Wilson Middle School just down the street from home. The school already has a butterfly garden along Custer Road, but I wanted to see the new vegetable garden that's taking shape this year. All these photos are from my walk-through in the early evening last Saturday. Life Skills teacher Sharon Russell was nominated for Plano Teacher of the Year 2012.  She is obviously a woman with a passion for connecting kids with learning through gardening. Do teachers get to have passion and model creativity and problem-solving for kids? Or is it all about measurable performance?

My little Montessori school's garden is about seventy square feet if I can trust my three a.m. calculations. It's basically the same size as the dirt area next to my back patio at the condo.  In this space the kids are growing tomatoes, peppers, radishes, dill, basil, red salvia, daisies, zucchini.What are the preschoolers learning?

Plants need water and sunshine. We can take turns with the watering cans. You have to hold the watering can underwater in the big bucket to fill it. Carry a watering can so your shoes don't get all wet. We don't waste water by sprinkling the sidewalk.

We can see how plants change.  They start little and get bigger. We can draw the sequence. We can make a story about what we see. It's fun to tell our friends when we notice something different in the garden.

It tastes good to eat the fruits of our effort.We can be brave and taste new things. If you pick a green tomato your friends can't ever eat it at snack time. Food isn't always cellophane-wrapped in a styrofoam container. If you pick a green tomato your friends can't ever eat it at snack time.

It feels good to dig and take rocks out of the dirt. Worms and grubs live underground. We wash our hands after we work in the garden.

Bees help plants grow. Bees are not really interested in you. Spiders make pretty webs. Spiders and ants are not that interested or dangerous, either, and it is fun to name them. It is more fun to watch an insect than to step on it.

Caterpillars eat dill. Dill smells good! It is fun to cut dill, basil, and rosemary to feed the class pet rabbit, Norton. It feels good to think of others. We have to remember to carry the bucket of food inside!

Animals visit our garden at night! What animal stole the whole strawberry plant?

Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators : The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World writes about developing a culture of innovation based on collaboration, interdisciplinary problem-solving, and intrinsic motivation.  Even at the preschool level that sounds like the job description for a school garden!

© 2012 Nancy L. Ruder

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Wonderful! I love what the preschoolers are learning! and I'm glad the parents were able to rescue the outdoor garden/science teacher!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...