Children LOVE to work in the garden. The Frog Class enthusiastically helped me rake out weeds and spread more soil in the beds before planting sugar snap peas around two bamboo “teepees.” This is a great crop for children because the pods can be eaten straight from the vine and their sweet, crunchy taste is appealing. They must be planted early, though, because the plants wilt during our hot summers. Soon we will plant other early crops, like spinach and lettuce. We must wait for warmer weather to plant more delicate crops like tomatoes, beans, and flowers.
Gardening is a good metaphor for how children learn. Seeds planted in soil when the time, temperature and moisture are right, will sprout and flourish immediately. Other seeds may lie dormant, then just when you’ve given up on them, the right conditions converge and they suddenly germinate. Ideas and experiences planted in children’s brains may not bloom into understanding until the children have matured enough or had other related experiences. This requires patience from teachers, as waiting for flowers and fruit requires patience from the children.
To grow things successfully you must get your hands in the dirt. Young children need to take in information through all of their senses, and gardening is truly a multi-sensory experience. To remember things children must be engaged. Children are enchanted by the magic of growing things and care intensely if their plants grow or die.
This spring we will plant seeds from sunflowers, marigolds and pumpkins we grew last year. Gardening provides first hand experience of nature’s cycles: life cycles, the soil cycle, the water cycle and seasonal cycles. Understanding of cycles is included in the standards of learning for early elementary school, but it also builds a sense of continuity and hope for the future.
As we help our garden grow this spring we will be learning the lessons described in my favorite verse of “The Garden Song” by David Mallett (also quoted at start of article):
“Grain by grain, sun and rain,
Find my place in Nature’s chain,
Tune my body and my brain
To the music of the land.”