Garden as Classroom

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.-Mark Twain

There is so much commentary these days about the disconnect between people and the fundamentals of life.  

Kids don’t know where food comes from.  

Adults don’t know what qualifies as real food.

People don’t spend enough time in nature.

We have to be taught to be mindful and present in the moment.

You know that Bible verse where God told Adam not to worry about being a good steward of the earth and to do his worst, God would protect man from the consequences and doesn’t care about his other creation, anyway?  Me, neither.

How about the school of reductionist scientific thought that says nothing is connected to the whole?  As much as some act otherwise, it is malarkey, too.

So why do we act as though we are not completely dependent on the natural world, as if it is insignificant until we can make a buck off of it?

The specialization that allowed us all to flee the farm and take up residence in the concrete jungles has a downside.  Many downsides.  We are the sick, stressed, disconnected products of our own ignorance.

What do we do about it?

I’m going to talk to the parents here.  Every individual adult is responsible for the path they take but parents carry the burden of educating the next generation.  Yes, some education happens in school buildings.  That is why kids are sent to school.  But the responsibility for making sure they are educated rests on the shoulders of their guardians.  Anything they don’t pick up in school,  is our job to teach them.

A critical part of developing a child’s entire being is making sure they are aware of where they fit in this world.  This is multifaceted and sometimes deeply personal so let’s focus on one aspect.  

Each person is part of a biome.  We are not islands nor do we exist in vacuums.  We are linked to everything around us.  We eat.  We expel.  What goes in must be caught, foraged, hunted, raised, grown or produced in some way.  What comes out must also be dealt with in some fashion.  

Gardening is more than digging a hole and watering a plant.

There are few subjects that cannot be taught in the garden.  Besides the obvious visceral connection that can be made between man and the rest of creation, there are countless concepts that literally come alive for the aware mind in nature.

The laws of thermodynamics can be witnessed and discussed.  I love talking about the conservation of energy and what counts as a closed system.  

Tie that into the trophic levels of energy consumption.  When producers collect energy from the sun they turn it into energy that can be consumed and used by those that eat producers (primary consumers) and so forth, up the chain energy, after a loss at each level, goes.

trophic levels

Vocabulary can be greatly expanded in the garden.  Think about the words for the parts of a seed alone: seed coat, endosperm, germ, cotyledon, hilum, radicle…

Or the parts of a flower: pistil, stigma, anther, stamen, style, filament, sepal…

What about the basic difference between soil and dirt?

You get the idea.

The garden is also the perfect place to discuss the microbiome and everything bacterial.

Farms are resplendent with bio-chemistry lessons.  

Math is used all the time on the farm and not just when measuring and building.  There are inputs and outputs everywhere.

The more ethereal subjects have long been at home in the garden, from the first mention of Eden to Jung’s ideas of the collective to Wendell Berry’s social commentary, there is no limit to the philosophical and social science inquiry that can ensue when one is connected to the soil.

What about politics?  Food, from seed, through production, processing, marketing and consumption is absolutely saturated with politics in the US.  

Supply chains are a great subject to discuss on the farm.

What about markets and value?  Economics dictate this part of our lives no less than any other.  Bartering and currency are easy subjects out here.

Growing food and farming teach about life and death.  It can be joyous.  Sometimes the lessons are painful but they can be learned as part of the life cycle in a much more compassionate way than many kid’s first encounter them these days.  

And it is beautiful to eat your own homework when it is a piece of produce.

Some practical tips for gardening with children

Even young children can learn so much about big subjects when they can put their hands on them.  

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First, don’t fuss about the dirt.  Let them get filthy.  Let them stick soil (or manure) on a slide and give it a good look with a microscope.  

Encourage children to feel the tilth of the soil and describe it.  What colors and shades are there?  What are the particles like?  How does it feel when you rub them between your fingers?  What does it smell like?  Have them write down their observations.   Now go somewhere else and do the same thing.

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Let the kids pick the seeds and plants to grow.  Teach them how to know what might thrive in your area.  Seed catalogs are magical and often beautiful.  Get some hard copies of great catalogs and let the kids dream and plan. (links to our favorites here.)

Explain the basics of germination, photosynthesis, pollination and nutrients.  

For the very young, the Let’s Read and Find Out books are a great complement to many garden lessons.

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Use the words “get to” in place of “have to” to help frame the work experience.  It can be hot and buggy outside.  Fostering an attitude of gratitude from the beginning is always a good idea.

Let them share their experiences (and harvest, if there is one) with anyone they want.  Children learn to own a learning experience when they share it verbally or tangibly with others.  

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Check your perfectionist tendencies at the door.  Be inquisitive and let them see you learn and research.  Don’t stress about how the garden looks or whether everything is always done.  Kids will learn a lot by failing to complete a task and seeing the consequences.

Teach them to problem solve.  Gardening offers no limited number of problems to solve.  Our national tendency is to do a poor job of it.  Ask your children to figure out why something is happening and then think of ways to deal with it.  Then walk them through possible projected outcomes and implement their approaches to see what works and what doesn’t.  Remember, we often learn more from our failures than our successes.  

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When something in the garden fails, make a point of handling it with grace and fascination.  Say, “Oh, wow!  Look what happened.  Let’s investigate.” will teach your children a lesson that will serve them for life.

Consider documenting your child’s garden experience so they can remember it all the next time they attempt to grow something.  It will also show them you value the experience.

So there is a start.  Let’s raise the next generation to a more cognizant life, one where they have a fundamental understanding of the where they fit and how their souls, minds and bodies are nourished.  

Resources:

YouTube has some great channels that compliment garden lessons.  We like the Amoeba Sisters, Free School, Crash Course Kids and Khan Academy.  

Georgia Organics has a very comprehensive curriculum list online.  I recommend the Slow Food resources.

Chew on this

Big Science is Broken

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Love from the farm

Happy eating, Katy

11 thoughts on “Garden as Classroom

  1. Excellent post. But you didn’t mention cooking, diet and exercise. B-)

    I’m sure I mentioned this before, possibly in another bloggers post, but here in the UK we do have a form of this as an elective part of the curriculum. It’s not a hard requirement yet as not all schools have access to a full garden plot.

    It has a long way to go but its a start and there are real pushes on the government to implement an addition to the curriculum that does give time to horticulture in one form or another, be it gardening for pleasure or agriculture.

    I’m all for including it as it gives so much to kids. The only problem is having teachers that can and will take the class. Over here I’ll bet that the oversight and red tape would be an utter nightmare!

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes!!! Quite a few of our big gardening charities, RHS and a few others, are petitioning the G’vmnet to do something and so in the meantime they are helping in many ways. Mainly in the manner of reaching out to schools themselves.
        When I worked for the council we would see a few of the schools doing AMAZING things with tiny spaces and it all looked epic!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Our elementary school has a garden where not only do the kids grow the veggies, but they harvest them and have a dinner in the fall using the produce!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I believe that was one of the things a couple of the schools I was in did too. Many classes would have time in the garden but only the oldest would actually prepare a meal with it.
      Not sure why they did it that way… Possibly because it would be too difficult with younger kids?

      I know they harvested quite a few fruit and such around September time so they probably had things like fruit salads a lot.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. A course like this would be visionary, but I’m sure funding would be a problem as our school does not currrently have an art class. You are certainly right about the plethora of subjects that could be addressed in the garden. . .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is exactly what my husband and I were discussing recently concerning our granddaughter.

    As we’ve gotten older, we’ve come nearly full- circle to our raising. Our daughter is a container gardening enthusiast (apartment dweller) but I want our granddaughter to learn more. We’re trying to buy land for a homestead now and about to start a raised-bed for where we are now.

    My daughter has also become quite the home-chef, often asking me for recipes and tips for scratch cooking.

    I want my family to appreciate the earth we live on, respect nature and honoring hard work by enjoying the fruits of their labor.

    Liked by 2 people

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