Garden Video Visits

By Larry Johnson

One of the finest experiences my students and I have had is touring different children's gardens around the world through a Garden Video Letter Exchange. It's not as good as going in person, of course, but it's much better than not going at all. My Minnesota students have been amazed to see their video pen pals from Ecuador first growing corn and then standing in a banana jungle, and to watch their Georgia pen pals harvest peanuts and cotton.

All you need to create a garden video letter is a thriving indoor or outdoor classroom garden, a blank videocassette, a camcorder, and a person with homestyle video experience to help your students show and tell what's going on in the garden.

What Should One Look Like?

Keep it simple and interesting -- 15 to 20 minutes is plenty. Let your students each narrate a small portion, introducing themselves and showing the school, the garden, and projects they care about. End with some questions about what you'd like to see in the return video. If you're not editing (few schools have the time or luxury), plan your shots and tape them in order, fading to black between scene changes.

What to show your video visitors is wide open, but it helps to think about it. Garden games you play? Students telling garden stories? A field trip to a garden-related place? How you turn lunchroom waste into garden compost? Garden songs from the spring musical? How you make things grow indoors? The seniors next door who help you with your school garden? Have students work together to plan, script, and possibly rehearse their scenes.

For visual variety, change scenes, showing different aspects of your garden program -- GrowLab, composter, giant sunflowers, experiments, and so forth. Use a microphone or keep the built-in one close for good sound. When asking other classrooms to share, think visually about what you'd like to see. If you ask, "Do you like having a school garden?" someone could stand before the camera and say "Yes." If you say, "Please show us a garden game you play," they just might do it.

Who Should Do the Taping?

Ideally, the kids will learn to operate a video camera and plan and produce the video tour themselves. But whether students or adults do the actual taping, they shouldn't be locked in to creating a "professional" product. Certainly you don't want a sloppy video that can't be heard and makes you dizzy to watch, but keep in mind you're communicating with a small, friendly audience, not a national network.

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