Pre-K Innovation: A day in the garden with Plant the Seed

by Susannah Fotopulos of Plant the Seed During the 2014-15 school year, Plant the Seed has partnered with MNPS to provide garden-based learning experiences for children at the Early Learning Centers at Ross, Bordeaux and Casa Azafran. Plant the Seed provides trained garden facilitators to work with children and their teachers in small groups so that each child has weekly garden time. We also design and support the gardens to transform the outdoor space into an enriched outdoor classroom.

Our program is designed to deepen the creative curriculum in use at all Early Learning Centers, while providing developmentally-appropriate experiences outdoors. We believe in the principles of service-learning, the benefits of edible education and the ability of young children to impact their communities and families through meaningful work in their garden.

If you visit one of our gardens on a given day, you might hear laughter, singing and questions. You might smell and feel the soil or taste some fresh greens or herbs. What looks at first like play is also learning, as children discover their world firsthand and encounter new sights, smells and tastes.

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A day in the garden might include some of these moments:

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When a group enters the garden, we begin with our opening circle and our garden song. This is a simple song that reviews the process of growing a plant and serves as a centering moment to bring our attention to the garden around us. We begin our garden time in our opening circle to reflect on what we learned last week, and to make a plan for the day. Often we read a story that is relevant to the garden needs, making a chart of what we know and what we wonder.

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We break into centers, where children have the option of working in small groups to explore various aspects of the garden. We have a library featuring a living roof that is stocked with garden-themed books so that children may choose to relax in a quiet spot and read to a friend:

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All children have their own garden journals available in the garden to record their observations:

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For the more energetic students, we have a digging area to practice our shovel skills and discover surprises in the garden soil. We are always delighted to find a grub or pebble beneath the surface:

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We can practice our seed starting and transplanting skills at the potting bench, a child-sized workbench stocked with scoops, sieves, buckets, soil, pots and seeds:

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The outdoor mud kitchen adjacent to our garden is a wonderful place to experiment with soil and water while using our imaginations:

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We usually have important garden tasks, and we want to make sure the students understand that the garden has seasonal needs and that they are important in helping us meet these needs. We might be planting cover crops, watering, building a cold frame or low tunnel or checking on the compost pile:

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Near the end of our garden time, we circle back together to share what we discovered. If we all harvested and tasted carrots that day, we might play the “carrot tasting game” to share our impressions with each other. We also make a plan for what the garden may need next week before singing our song and returning to the classroom.

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Each week we strive to prepare the garden space with rich resources that allow for open-ended play and inquiry, while also preparing a brief seasonally-relevant lesson. This approach of focused garden experiences in the context of child-led discovery of the prepared environment is what makes the Plant the Seed / Metro Schools pre-K partnership unique in the city, and perhaps even the country. We are honored to be a partner in developing a model of garden-based learning with the children of Nashville and look ahead to the day when this innovative approach serves as an example of excellence nationwide.