"Several years ago my fifth and sixth grade after-school 'service learning' garden club won your Kids Growing with Dutch Bulbs grant, then planted flower bulbs in our school beds and in an old cemetery we were helping to renovate," reports Spartanburg, SC, teacher Kathleen Elam.
Inspired by the promise of spring flowers, Kathleen's students researched the history of these plants, and discovered that the bulbs were actually plant parts from Holland, Germany, and other countries. This prompted a discussion of plant origins and recognition that many of their garden plants had rich histories. With an eye toward highlighting the diversity of their garden plants, students decided to create an "International Garden Tour" for their spring Earth Day celebration.
The class spent the fall itemizing what they had planted on the grounds, then researching, illustrating, and writing stories about their plants' histories. They measured the garden beds and used pencils and Power Point computer software to create scaled drawings, using different shapes as symbols to identify plant types. The class generated garden-related poetry, then voted on which pieces to include in a booklet titled Growing Gardens with Love and Bloom, which they would share with younger students.
On the day of the event, each of Kathleen's fifth and sixth graders went to a lower-grade classroom and brought three to five youngsters back to the library. The garden club students opened the presentation by reading a selected garden poem and sharing plant-related library books they'd purchased for the school, then escorting the younger students to the garden. The mentors described why each plant got its name, how it came to this country, and how it was and continues to be used. They wrapped up by guiding the younger students on a garden tour and encouraging them to explore the plants with their senses.
"You can tell kids about a lot, but the experience of successfully organizing a program like this is worth so much more," notes Kathleen. "The cooperation, organizational skills, and family spirit that developed in the club was remarkable, as was the care and pride that they showed in working with younger children. And it's not necessarily only academically motivated students who thrive; many of these kids have significant behavioral problems," she adds.