With help from our PTO and a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant, this fall we added 11 new raised beds at my daughter Abby’s school for our third grade and pre-k classes (this is in addition to the 10 raised beds we already had for our fourth graders). It was so exciting to watch more kids catch the gardening bug after digging in the soil and experiencing the magic of seeds sprouting before their eyes.
Garden installation was a wild time for us. In addition to the new beds, we also replaced some of the existing beds and our volunteer crews were out in 95 degree temperatures (yes, I know hard to imagine now) leveling the ground, building the frames then hauling in soil and crushed granite. With great determination and a lot of sweat, somehow we got it done in time for fall planting.
Our fourth graders once again planted a version of square foot gardens with students partnering up to plan, plant and maintain a salad garden in their own little plots. The third graders started sugar snap pea races. Each class divided into 4 teams and each team planted sugar snap pea seeds at the base of one of the stakes in a bean teepee. The team whose plants grew to the top first earned the winner title. We surrounded each bed with marigolds, not only to make them look pretty, but also so we could discuss companion planting. Finally, the pre-k classes planted a variety of plants to engage the senses including herbs, colorful bedding plants and a hodgepodge of fast growing (and larger in size) seeds. The kids had a blast!
Reflecting on this fall season, of course I have ideas about things I would like to change in the future. Here is my list of resolutions for the upcoming spring gardening season:
We will not plant with all three grade levels on one day again. Trying to match volunteer and teacher schedules, we planted all of the fall gardens on one day (21 raised beds and about 300 kids). In my head, I thought this was an efficient way to recruit volunteers and to optimize flexible classroom time. We were still able to bring the kids out in small groups (we had a ratio of 1 volunteer for every 4 kids for the older students and 1 volunteer for each child for the pre-k students), but unfortunately things felt a bit rushed. For spring planting, I hope that we can reserve one day for each grade level, still recruit the same number of volunteers, but take it a bit slower.
We will build a bigger garden committee. On planting day we had about 15 volunteers to help throughout the day, but our numbers for the bed building days were a lot smaller and I am afraid I might have burned out a few volunteers with our big fall installation. As the volunteer coordinator, I really should have known better and organized things differently, but I am sure you all can relate to the difference between planning goals and reality. I also know that the teachers took on a lot of the responsibility for the day-to-day care and I would really like to be able to ease the amount of work for them in the spring. So, my goal for the spring is to find 3 more volunteers that would like to help on regular basis and get more involved in all aspects of the garden.
We will find more ways to help the teachers connect the garden to the curriculum and evaluate the impact of gardening. The kids loved their gardens this fall, but I think there is room for improvement in finding ways to tie it with the other classroom lessons. Also, those of us who work with kids in the garden witnessed the benefits of a garden first hand, but I would like to find a good way capture the garden's impact in a more concrete sense for those who may not be personally involved (administrators, parents, etc.). I think both of these things are important if we want to make sure the garden keeps growing strong over the years.
We need to make sure we are expressing our appreciation to teachers, volunteers and garden supporters. I know, I know, this is basic information in all of our publications, but as rushed as the fall has been, I am quite guilty this fall of not adequately completing this task. Fortunately, it is never too late to say thank you. This will be a top priority in the 2017.
I am going to keep this list short. Although the ideas are still flowing for ways we could grow and expand our program, we added a lot of new garden space this fall, and I want to focus on the establishing a strong foundation and firmly integrating the current gardens into the culture of the school before we try to add more. I want to keep our to do list realistic, practical and accomplishable.
Hopefully, by writing down these goals, we will be more focused on achieving them and of course sharing them will make us more accountable too. Perhaps you have youth garden resolutions you would like to share as a reply to this blog or on Facebook?
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