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   From Me to You
   Calendar of Events
   Things to Expect & Do
   Children Know Once
            They Grow
   A New Way of
   Computer Corner
   Of Blue Skies and
            Brilliant Sunsets
   Summer Corn:
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   Corny Stuff
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   Going to Bat for Bats
            Desert Trees
   The Prickly Pear:
            Handle with Care!
   Birds in the Garden
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            Tips for Summer
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Master Gardener Journal  

S C H O O L   G A R D E N I N G

Children Know Once They Grow

by Becky McAneny,
Master Gardener

Kids play in the mud, dig for worms, and catch bugs. They also roll in the grass, hide in the bushes, and jump into piles of leaves. Not only are these children having fun, but they are also learning about soil, water, wiggly, crawling things, and plants.

Such activities can be developed into a teaching program for kids. Elementary school gardens involve math, science, and English, and they are quickly becoming an important educational tool. Some educators are seeing an improvement in classroom interest and in test scores among children who are involved in garden programs. Children use science and math to choose a location and design for their garden. They also learn what they need to do to prepare their new garden for planting and how to maintain it. They dig up worms and learn how they help the soil, and how to use a ruler by measuring planting rows. The experience of creating a garden enriches the lives of both the adults and the children who work together planning and nurturing their outdoor classroom.

Once the school sets up the garden program, the fun begins!

The first step is to walk with the children around the campus and decide on a site for the garden. They need to choose a place that will have 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day. One way to help them understand this concept is to show them where shadows fall around their school. Another important site consideration is how water will be brought to the garden. Unless a watering system is installed, one of the adults will have to drag hoses and sprinklers to the garden when watering needs to be done. Drainage is another important consideration. If the garden is full of puddles after watering, not only will you have soggy plants but you will also have soggy kids. One way to turn on the energy switch in kids is to hand them a shovel. They can help fill in the puddles with soil so the ground is level. Convenient access to the garden from the classrooms will be important. Teachers and students can easily extend their classroom activities outside when the garden is located nearby.

The next step is to design and develop the site. It's important to think small. If the garden is too large, weeding and watering can become overwhelming tasks. An easy way to involve the students is to get out a large sheet of brown paper and give them crayons. Draw an outline of the garden, and help the children decide where planting beds and paths will be located. The plan is easy to follow after putting the design on paper.

Next, get out those shovels and rakes! It's energy time-time to clear the area and physically mark the garden. When every child has his or her own tool to use, they can actively show their ownership in the garden plot by digging out weeds or raking up leaves, sticks, stones and other debris. In addition, the children lay out the planting areas and pathways by hammering stakes in the ground around the borders and connecting them with string. The last step in developing the site is for everyone to use a shovel to loosen and turn the soil, and if necessary add fertilizer or compost.

Everyone involved in the process gets excited at this point. It's time to decide what to plant. The third major step in the development of the garden is to have the kids look at calendars to see what plants to consider for the time of year and location. After they have chosen their favorite vegetables, fruits and flowers, the kids plant seeds or transplants with another round of wild enthusiasm. The children plant rows with curves and angles that are not on the original plan, and often the daisies are next to the cauliflower. Then after the planting is finished, the adult "Garden Fairies" water the garden as needed, and everyone looks forward to seeing the results. During this period the children can help maintain the garden, and can create journals of their successes and failures so they can learn from them.

The final step in the process, after the crops have grown, is to invite the director of the local food bank and have the kids harvest food to donate. Then it's time for celebrating the garden with a feast at the school! Show the children recipes for the foods that were grown, and help them cook the fruits (or veggies) of their labor for their families. Invite a newspaper reporter to publicize your successful garden, and watch the children stretch their necks with pride as they tell about the tiny carrots and the giant squash they grew and then cooked.

When children grow an outdoor classroom, they become little scientists. They learn patience and critical thinking. The process of planning a garden for an elementary school fosters pride, responsibility, self- confidence, and community spirit in everyone who takes part in this hands-on educational experience.

"A gardener is never shut out from his garden, wherever he may be. Its comfort never fails. Though the city may close about him, and the grime and soot descend upon him, he can still wander in his garden, does he but close his eyes." -- Beverley Nichols

Kid's Garden photo courtesy of Cooperative Extension

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated May 28, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
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