The children of the Erving Elementary Preschool were so proud of the sunflowers they grew that they sent representatives to the Recorder/Greenfield Garden Club Sunflower Contest in August. When the children returned to Erving they carried back prize ribbons for the heaviest sunflower head and for the third tallest.
But their garden is about more than glory. The preschool class of 3 and 4 year olds, led by teacher Mary Glabach with the assistance of Kristin Lilly, Becky Allen and Lorie Flaherty, planted and tended a garden of cherry tomatoes, peppers, chard, green beans, carrots and zinnias. And one sunflower planted by each of the 25 students who attend morning or afternoon sessions at the school. There are even a few morning glories twining through the garden that self seeded from last year’s efforts.
The two new big raised beds built by Jill and Ryan Betters with their son Brayden McCord, were filled with compost rich soil donated by Michael Mackin and Kristin Lilly. It seems that everyone who has had children in the class for the past eight years has wanted to help by donating labor and funds. “We also received garden club grants from the Greenfield Garden Club. Throughout the years we have purchased gardening gloves, gardening tools, worm composting items, seeds, seedlings and garden books,” Glabach said.
The garden beds are located right outside the preschool classroom so it is easy to take the children out to work in the garden. There they might very well get a science or math lesson, having so much fun that even a passing adult might not realize that lessons are in full flow.
One of the difficulties that school garden programs run into is that so much of the gardening year occurs during the summer when school is not in session. Happily for the Erving preschool garden there is a summer enrichment program whose students care for the garden.
Parents and families are also invited to come by to pull a weed – or to use the harvest as it comes in. “I was here one day and one of the families came by. I think they might have run out of salad makings – but they knew just where to come,” Glabach said.
Glabach started gardening with children years ago out of her own love for gardening and because she saw it as a way to engage children in various subjects. This spring the preschool staff visited the Keene State College Child Development Center to learn more about the ‘Early Sprouts’ curriculum. This program provides activities from seed to table, even sending home recipes for tasty fresh dishes like Swiss chard and cheddar quesadillas. Butternut muffins are a particular favorite.
Gardens can lead to healthy eating. When I visited the children were snacking on cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, but they also like steamed green beans – and even bell peppers. When we think about the obesity epidemic in our country with its attendant health problems like diabetes, we realize that we need to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for our children early on so they develop a taste for these nutritious foods that will give them pleasure and good health all their lives.
Most people understand how gardening can fit into the science and math curriculum, with all the counting, measuring, observation and experimentation that can take place in the garden. For dramatic play, Glabach has them set up a Farmer’s Market with real vegetables to be tasted, and real sales slips to be counted.
Pretty soon Glabach’s class will put a pumpkin in a sealed aquarium and watch it decompose. The aquarium is sealed to avoid a classroom full of fruit flies. While I might think that someday, when they are reading Shakespeare in high school and hear the mournful Jacques (As You Like It) complain “from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, til we rot and rot . . .” they will think of that pumpkin mouldering in its glass coffin, but Glabach has more immediate literary connections for her students. “One year we had a Peter Rabbit garden, growing the vegetables in that book. Every year we try new things,” she said.
Neither is art forgotten. Some vegetables, like gourds, can be used for making art prints! Scarlet runner beans can surprise with their striking lavender and black beans.
Glabach said she is very lucky to be teaching at the Erving Elementary School because “the whole community really cares about their children and the importance of their education. They are willing to fund different programs.”
When I asked if there were any plans for expanding the garden, Glabach’s eyes lit up. “We are working with Paul Bocko, Erving’s Curriculum Coordinator, looking for ideas to possibly extend our growing season.” Hmmmm. Do I see a little greenhouse in the preschool’s future?
More and more people have come to recognize the value of letting children ‘play’ in the dirt, and letting them be responsible for growing things. This recognition has led to more and more school gardens. I saw that Holy Trinity School Garden had entries in the Franklin County Fair, and of course, I am familiar with the Heath School Garden. I would be very interested in hearing about other school garden projects. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to let me know about a school garden – or any other notable garden project.
Between the Rows September 25, 2010
Don’t forget this is the joyous Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange this weekend. Check out www.garlicandarts.org for full information.