Monday, April 19, 2010

This Is Enough For Now

This comment from Donna from over at Irresistable Ideas For Play Based Learning about this post has to be one of my top ten favorite comments of all time:

I've mentioned before Tom that our attempts in the past to grow veggies have been disasterous so I will watch with interest as to how you go . . . hopefully, you can inspire us to give it another try.

Mine too, disasters every one!

Sure we've sprouted some radishes over the years. And one time 3-year-old Noah carried a handful of wheat berries from the sensory table and tossed them into the aquarium where we were trying to force tulip bulbs on the day before our spring break. We returned to the classroom 10 days later to find that we had grown a lawn. Those have been our gardening successes up to now. I blame the fact that most of the interesting stuff, like food, comes to fruition in the months during which we're not in school, but it's also because I've never really grown food myself. Both of my parents were raised on farms and to this day Dad (a retired engineer) maintains a productive vegetable garden, and still I'm sad to say I've eaten very little that I grew myself.

We're now going to be running a "summer camp" 3 days a week for much of the summer, which should put us in the garden enough to tend it through its productive season. That excuse is now taken off the table.

This means that I, along with the kids, am going to try growing food in our new garden.

The line at the top of this blog is "Teaching and learning from preschoolers," but this will be a case of learning "with" them. I also have the advantage of being able to assign an assistant teacher (in the form of a parent) to guide the daily gardening tasks, a person who will in most cases know far more than I. The parts are in place, it seems, to make this work.

I'm encouraged by the fact that we've already grown such a bumper crop of lentil sprouts that even Dennis and Isak couldn't eat them all before they "turned." And so far our worm bed is an exciting place for the children to explore.

Ultimately, I envision our garden as a year-round, going concern, with our crops turning up on our snack table. I imagine that young children, over the course of 3 years of helping tend the garden will gain an intimate knowledge of how plants grow through practical, hands-on experience. I want them to be able identify the indigenous plants in our garden by leaf, flower, fruit and possibly even seed. If Jamie Oliver is correct, this alone will go a long way toward helping them make healthy diet choices as they get older. I want them to learn about the seasons and cycles of the garden and help them draw parallels with the rest of the world. I want them to gain the experiences of patience and nurturing. I want us to learn from the pests and crop failures that I'm sure are in our future. I'm even thinking about the prospects of ultimately expanding our farming operation to include a few chickens with their fresh eggs and fresh fertilizer the way Jasper's family does.

When I think of all the things I want from our garden, however, I get overwhelmed and start envisioning its failure. I'm trying to keep us focused by telling myself that this is one of those circumstances where, as good as our community is at taking great leaps forward, it will have to be one step at a time. Even though we have some master gardeners in our community who could probably swoop in one weekend and give us an urban farm, we can't count on them to just do it to us, because if it's going to be a community garden, we're going to have to do it together, step-by-step, seed-by-seed. Like all gardens, it will be a project of years.

We've already learned one thing: it's important to plan. When we first opened our new garden, I ran out and bought several packets of flower seeds for the children to plant as they saw fit. This is all very well and good, and the children enjoyed it, but since we have no idea where they are or even what they are any more, we have no idea what to look for as sprouts emerge. That robs the experience of much of its educational value. That was the genesis of our first seed experiment, in which we've planted a variety of seeds, carefully marking them so we know what we have when and if sprouts emerge.

We have a notebook in which we are going to keep a record of our observations and conclusions.

We already have a bed of radishes under way and our burlap sack potatoes seem to be thriving.

This week we'll be planting lettuce and broccoli as well. And I know we'll want to plant some kale because I understand that grows pretty much year-round in these parts.

This is enough for now. With this humble start I envision success.

I'll keep you informed, Donna!

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Noah said...


Tom - you are completely on the right track!! Gardening is challenging and so fulfilling to do with kids - last year we grew all kinds of things in two gardens, and the kids participated in pretty much every step. It is a really amazing thing to help nurture kids connection to food and growing...I'm so happy to hear about your plans!
And PLANNING is key - you're totally right.
As a gardener myself, I have had some really beautiful moments working with toddlers and preschoolers in gardens, and planting things, and tying ourselves more deeply to natural cycles by connecting with food. There is so much potential!!
I'm so excited for you and the kids and the school - good luck - I'm rooting for you all. HA!

kristin said...



since we've started a compost bucket at snack time, kids are more motivated to eat their fruit and veggies so they have scraps.

Lindsey said...

Best of luck dude! We're flying by the seats of our pants with the growing stuff mission here too. I just need to figure out what food Racoons hate, or buy and air rifle and night vision goggles ;)

Something that the kids might find interesting as well as growing from seeds, is to find some stuff that you can grow from leaf cuttings. I guess that might have to start off as an indoor project though.

Looking forward to hearing more about what you all discover. I'll keep my fingers crossed that we both manage to grow something edible this season!

Eternal Lizdom said...

My daughter loved gardening with me last year. It was my first veggie garden and was, really, a rousing success. This year, I'm taking more control of it (my mom did the planting last year and I did the maintenance) and am very excited to start planting!

Unknown said...

I really feel like I get to do all of these things with you and I love it so much : )

Unknown said...

If anyone ever had a "brown thumb" it would be me! My husband teases that I have even managed to kill plastic and silk flowers, as well!
Worked on our little patch today, getting it ready. Hopefully, we can plant a few seeds this week. Maybe we'll get one or two before I manage to kill them all!
~ Look at your garden, absolutely fabulous! (I may have to be content watching YOUR garden! :)

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

I envision great success. Remember, don't climb up the beanstalk...
I just gave a shout out to you and your community/blog post on my blog about your play space. This garden now adds a whole other level of excitement and anticipation.
Wonderful to watch.

Play for Life said...

We will definitely be watching with interest Tom ... I so hope you have success because then I will definitely be inspired to give it another go!

Thanks my friend,

Donna :) :)

Christie - Childhood 101 said...

Try sharing 1 centre-grown strawberry amongst 13 two year olds! The joys of teaching.