Guest Post: Transplanting Grow Healthy Kids to the Home Learning Environment

Am playing catch-up this month with some projects–and working on the inaugural Homegrown Kids homeschool workshop. So I’ve asked Julie Thompson-Adolf to pitch in with some blog posts.

The count down is on…spring is almost here! If you’re like me, you’re doing a happy dance and gathering daffodils.

Mop the floors?

Why bother?

They’ll just get muddy again.

It’s time to play outside after dinner, clean up the gardens, and plant some veggies.

Plus, my kids look for any excuse to stay outside until the last bit of sun disappears for the day. But that’s not true for many families, and often “Wii Sports Resort” is the closest many children get to any kind of “outdoor” activity. (Don’t get me started on the virtual farming that takes place on “Harvest Moon.”)

That’s when it’s time to go to the garden.

Full disclosure: I’m not a homeschooling mom. I am, however, a mom of three, Master Gardener (that sounds so pretentious, doesn’t it?), heirloom plant grower, and advocate for school gardening programs. In fact, I’m the liaison for 12 school gardens through a program called “Grow Healthy Kids.”

Many of you fans of are homeschooling (or after school) parents. Grow Healthy Kids segues perfectly from a public school program to a home-based learning opportunity.

No matter where schooling occurs, our kids are required to meet certain educational standards. Lots and lots of standards. Frankly, in my children’s schools, there’s so much focus on teaching to the core curriculum standards, followed by testing to ensure the kids meet those standards that I wonder how teachers accomplish anything productive. My kids are fortunate—they have wonderful, creative, inspired teachers. But for many educators—and the kids they teach–the standards-driven curriculum can become claustrophobic.

The Grow Healthy Kids program, however, helps break the monotony and inspires hands-on learning activities combining nature, nutrition, and—yes–curriculum standards.

Honestly, what’s more empowering for a child than to grow her own dinner? Or to sow a seed, nurture it, harvest the fruit, and serve it to his parents?

Any chance to engage children in gardening provides an excellent learning-based experience, and Grow Healthy Kids is only one program available to help link gardening, children, and education. It’s based on the Junior Master Gardener program, with the fundamental activities designed to work in a classroom or after school setting.

As a homeschooling program, however, Grow Healthy Kids can become a year-long learning resource, offering opportunities not available to traditional public school students. Most public school children can’t plant tomatoes and corn, learn about the Three Sisters Garden, or harvest Cherokee Trail of Tears beans—because they aren’t in school during the summer months when these plants grow.

A home learning-based garden, though, provides unlimited opportunities for planting interesting, historical varieties of food and flowers…and using those plants to discuss Native American history, write a haiku to a rose blossom, or harvest and scientifically classify heirloom tomato seeds to save and plant the following summer.

The program’s 13-lesson curriculum includes lessons on: plant growth; planting the garden; water; soils; weather; insects; art in the garden; caring for the garden; composting; food for healthy bodies; food safety; protecting our planet. Finally, it culminates in a harvest celebration.

Our local schools use the program twice during the school year—once in the fall, and again in the spring with a different student population, plus a few tweaks to the cool-weather vegetables planted. The organization behind Grow Healthy Kids, the Greenville Organic Foods Organization, provides transplants, seeds, soil and amendments, as well as the initial investment of the raised beds and tools.

The garden fulfills more than the obvious science standards. Kids meet English/ Language Arts requirements by writing about their experiences in the garden and making presentations about their observations. Math curriculum is emphasized by incorporating Square Foot Gardening, where the students calculate the number of plants that can fit in each 12” square, based on the plants’ growth requirements. History is explored in the Social Studies curriculum, as the kids learn how settlers and Native Americans used companion planting to increase their harvests.

But most of all, gardening builds confidence as kids grow food to share at the Harvest Celebration.

Have you ever seen a child eat pac choi straight from the garden?

I have. And it was amazing.

Below is an example of how Grow Healthy Kids incorporates our state curriculum standards. (You may wish to consult your state’s curriculum standards to see how the lessons can meet your requirements.)

GROW HEALTHY KIDS/ Lesson 1 ~ Orientation/Plant Basics
The kids learn the rules for the garden, as well as basic plant information, such as how seeds turn into plants.
Sample SC Standard:

Standard 1-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the special characteristics and needs of plants that allow them to survive in their own distinct environments. (Life Science)

Along with the teacher showing the children the plants, identifying the parts, and discussing their needs for survival, many teachers use the Program Activity, “Plant Parts Rap.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

The tiny plant begins as a seed that germinates.
And from this moment on, here’s the journey that it takes:
The roots are in the dirt to help the plant grow
and hold it in place when the winds blow.
Just like a soda straw, they suck up H2O.
And when the plant gets water, stand back and watch it grow…

(Admit it–you’re rockin’ to the “Plant Rap” now, aren’t you?)
Remember, too—incorporating gardening into your schooling doesn’t require a lot of time, money, or space. Seeds are inexpensive, and many companies will donate seeds for educational purposes. Container gardens are perfect if you have limited space for growing. And even bean sprouts provide a good opportunity to incorporate gardening into your curriculum.

I just came home from lunch at my first-grader’s school. While I was there, I took his class out to check on the little garden I helped them start on Valentine’s Day. (His school, ironically, isn’t in the district for Grow Healthy Kids.) The kids were so proud to show me the peas that are about four inches high, the paperwhites and tulips that are blooming, and the buds on the strawberry plants.

But–they were even more excited when three of them found four-leaf clovers in the patch next to the garden!

No matter how you choose to incorporate gardening into your learning, just remember:

Don’t get rid of the clover. Apparently, you can use those four-leaf clovers to catch leprechauns.

Or so I’ve been taught.

In the garden.

Happy growing!

– Julie

Julie Thompson-Adolf is the owner of Garden Delights, an heirloom plant nursery. She writes about growing gardens and growing kids at Growing Days.

Image credits: Julie Thompson-Adolf