Activities for the First Day in the Garden

Activities for the first day in the garden

Here in Burlington we have just over a week until school starts. And with the onset of the academic year right around the corner I’m beginning to think about what to do with students during our first days in the garden. During these initial classes I typically focus on reintroducing students to their school’s growing space through lots of guided sensory exploration. Here are some of my favorite activities to get students reacquainted with the garden.

  • Garden Agreements: One of the first things I do with students during their inaugural class is to establish a set of Garden Agreements or Guidelines for staying safe and having fun. With older students it can be neat to have them generate these themselves: Divide your class into small groups and have each group brainstorm a list of 3-5 “rules” they think are the most essential (ex: ask permission before picking something, keep your feet on the pathways, etc). Next, have each group share their list with the whole class and then create a master list based on everyone’s suggestions.
  • Color Scavenger Hunt I’m all about scavenger hunts as a way for students to rediscover the garden. To do this activity you just need a wide assortment of paint chips, which you can easily get for free at your local hardware store—it may be tempting to simply grab a bunch of shades of green and brown, but I encourage you to get a swath of colors, everything from a brilliant red to a deep purple. Distribute a paint chip to each student and challenge them to find something in the garden that matches their color.
  • egg carton scavenger huntEgg Carton Scavenger Hunt: Another scavenger hunt option is to utilize egg cartons as collection containers. I like to label each container and challenge students to find multiple examples of the thing they’re looking for (ex: something soft, something hard, something smooth, something colorful, something alive, something dead, etc.). Alternatively you can put a bunch of different labels on a single container and have students search for all different types of objects. One important rule: only add something to your container if it can fit in your hand and if there’s more than one of it in the garden.
  • Tasting Survey: Guide students through the garden, identifying and then tasting everything edible you’re growing. It’s a simple activity but fun activity and you can easily take it a step further by challenging students to think of how you could use whatever you’re tasting in a recipe or by identifying and comparing flavor profiles. After eating our way through the garden I like to give students the opportunity to go back and pick one more of their favorite thing.
  • Flower Picking: This is one of my favorite ways to wrap up a first class with younger classes. Give students a minute or so to roam the garden and find their favorite flower (many of our elementary school gardens plants tons of sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds and nasturtiums so there’s usually enough for everyone to find one), then have them stand by it. Once everyone has made their selection reveal that they’ll get to bring that flower with them when they leave the garden. Classes sometimes choose to pool their flowers and create beautiful bouquets, other times students elect to bring their flower home.

For more on a successful year in the garden and/or outdoor classroom, check out some more top tips from Christine.

 

Container Gardening: Strikes and Gutters

container gardening

Here in Vermont, we’re just starting to reap the rewards of our hard garden work. I love chatting with fellow gardeners about what’s growing well in their gardens this year. I wanted to share one great success, and one colossal failure we’ve had this year.

I’ve got a sizable in-ground community garden plot, but the soil is very sandy and honestly I think it needs a few years of augmentation to be great soil. We’ve struggled with growing things like carrots and beets, and since our family eats lots of carrots, we really want to grow at least some of them!

container gardening
Happy kids with their sizable carrots!

So this year I bought a few fabric bags for growing carrots. (I bought these Grow Bags in a few bright colors.) We filled them with a good local, organic soil designed for containers. We watered them diligently until they sprouted. I mercilessly thinned the carrots. (Ugh, why is thinning carrots so hard?!) Reader, we had fantastic success! My kids pulled up beautiful carrots last week, and we couldn’t be happier. (Well, they fought over who got to eat the purple carrot, but they did eat six carrots in one evening.) There are some that are still pretty tiny, so we’re just doing a few a week, to the dismay of my preschooler who would love nothing more than to pull every.single.carrot out. (Want more info on growing carrots? Check out our carrot growing guide.)

And then there’s the strawberry tower. I wrote about this when we first constructed it. It started off so well! The strawberry plants blossomed! We were all dreaming about shoving our faces full of strawberries. Then, the plants slowly died. Honestly, they may have dried out? The thing was really hard to water. Also, the plants didn’t really have that much soil to work with. My spouse wants to deconstruct it and add a watering source down the middle. I am less into this plan, and want to just plant the strawberries in the ground. But, it was a total fail, and I think we literally got one strawberry from the whole contraption.

What about you? What are your strikes and gutters in the garden this year?

Summer Photo Contest

As I look through the pictures that have been submitted for our 2019 Summer Photo Contest, I am reminded of the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I love looking through all the photos of kids in their gardens showing off their beautiful spaces and prized harvest with faces full of joy. What do these pictures say to me? They say that getting kids gardening is important work and worth the time, energy, and resources I am dedicating to help make it happen. What do they say to you?

Photography has changed so much since I was a kid. I can still remember the suspense of picking up prints from the store wondering if your vacation pictures turned out well or, as usually was the case with the photos I took, were they out of focus with a thumb featured in them? With the evolution of digital photography, and especially the invention of the cell phone camera, the taking and sharing of photos has become an integral part of our world. Photos are powerful. We use them to communicate big stuff like expressing our thoughts and feelings, telling our stories and sharing news, documenting our joy and sorrow, and to hold our memories.

And just like any communication tool, we interpret images through the lens of our own experience and understanding. This is why different people can look at the same picture and yet formulate a completely different take away message.

So today I thought I would share a few photos of our family’s gardening adventures that are special to me and why.

The header photo above is a picture of flowers arranged by my son last summer. All on his own, he decided he want to make some arrangements and quickly picked every flower in our outdoor and indoor gardens. He proudly displayed them in a collection of assorted vases (which also each have a story of their own). He was so proud of his work, he then asked to borrow my camera to take this picture of his floral display. I love looking at this picture because we were going through a lot of struggles at the time and I can distinctly remember how light and happy we both felt doing this simple activity. It gave us a win when we really needed one.

Every fall, we plant container gardens of pansies – I love pansies so much – they are the happiest flowers around. This photo is of my daughter when she was 4 posing as we worked on our annual planting of bulbs and pansies. So it combines one of my favorite annual gardening activities with memories of her cute curls and sweet face.

Soil garden anyone? This photo is also from our annual pansy planting, but around 2 years later and it shows my son digging into the soil. The pansies never made it into his pot that year. Many of his earliest gardens were just pots of soil that he would enjoy digging through and watering … sometimes he would dress them up with some found natural items scattered about. Not exactly what I had planned, but a good learning experience for us both.

 

Lastly here is a picture from one of the early years of our school garden when the wood was still fresh and everything was new and exciting. After many years of watering, weeding and working to sustain the garden program, remembering how and why we got it started provides some inspiration to keep it going even when challenges abound.

Your turn! Please share some of your photos with us through our Summer Photo Contest!