"As we prepared to start our schoolwide garden, we wanted each grade level to have ownership in a special crop," reports June Neyhouse, second grade teacher in Princeton, IN. "So we brainstormed crops that each group could grow, with an eye toward links with each grade's curriculum emphases."
The upshot of their planning? First grade classrooms raise gourds and sunflowers, selling the hollowed-out gourds as bird nests and feeders and the sunflowers as bird food at an annual harvest sale. (The funds raised go toward paying students to take turns tending the garden during the summer.) Second graders raise and sell Indian corn, third graders raise pumpkins, fourth graders grow white popcorn, fifth graders grow peanuts and yellow popcorn, and the special education classes plant and tend flowers in containers near the building. The entire school tends the wildflower meadow and perennial gardens, which are used to study foliage, patterns, and flowers.
"While classes specialize in the crops they tend, all students use the entire garden as a living laboratory for investigations across the curriculum," says June. "Fourth graders, for instance, study different types of root systems and pollination of garden flowers. And upper grades observe, track, and describe the diversity of insects, section by section, throughout garden."
More and more classrooms are expanding their learning from indoor gardening to create outdoor gardens or plantings to enhance school grounds and communities and to serve as contexts for explorations across the curriculum. Although winter may still hold its grip in your location, it's time to engage your classroom gardeners in dreaming, scheming, and planning ahead.
Through conversations with teachers around the country whose students have moved from the inside out, we've discovered how some classes plan and design their gardens, and have learned of a range of creative thematic projects, from alphabet to ethnic gardens. Following are some highlights from these classrooms, with additional suggestions and resources to inspire your outdoor growing projects.
"Writing to seed companies to request catalogs is my fourth graders' first garden-planning activity," reports Maralee Gerke in Madras, OR. Catalogs in hand, students first figure out how many days are left until the end of school, then work in small groups to find varieties of vegetables that can grow in the region and can be harvested in that time. They also choose some that families can harvest during the summer and others to enjoy when school resumes in fall. A class wall chart sports the names and days to maturity of varieties chosen. "For those crops that will need to be started in the GrowLab, we count back the number of days until we should set them out (based on last frost dates), and create a planting calendar," Maralee explains. Each small group creates a garden plan and a map, to scale, for a ten- by ten-foot plot.
Meanwhile, seventh graders in Pam Riss's Streator, IL classroom use computers (and the AppleWorks database) to design their own seed catalogs and gardens. "We start off by brainstorming which categories of information we would need to create a database of plants, by considering what gardeners perusing a seed catalog might like to know," reports Pam. Students choose database categories (such as the plant's common and scientific name, description, use, light needs, interesting fact, and so on) and enter them into a new computer database file. Each student then uses seed catalogs, local gardeners, and business owners as resources, researching fifteen plants that would be suitable for a local vegetable or flower garden.
Once the information has been entered and reviewed, students create a "generic" seed catalog page using their database categories. They then merge the data on each plant with the generic page to create a fifteen-page catalog. Once students have reviewed and revised their catalog pages, they either paste photos or draw each plant on its page. "Using information from their databases and seed catalog pictures," says Pam, "students then have the option of designing an actual garden to plant."
Pairs of sixth graders in Arlene Marturano's Columbia, SC, class first peruse seed catalogs, then also use computers and the Sprout! software program from Abracadata (widely available on the WWW) to plan and design their outdoor gardens. "Students enjoy using the computer to design and actually see how their planting may appear when full grown," says Arlene. Pairs of students also use a laminated (washable) grid with vegetable and flower stickers to further create representations of their four- by four-foot outdoor garden plots.