Overheard in the Garden

Education in the Garden


It has been an eventful week in our school gardens! The nice weather means we’ve been outside at last, feeling the sunshine on our faces and cleaning up our gardens for spring. Hauling mulch, picking up trash, hanging bird feeders—something about the flurry of activity has turned my students into unstoppable chatterboxes.

The fresh air has made the line between reality and imagination a little fuzzy…

Me: “What kinds of animals visit your garden?”
Class (in unison): “Zebras!!!”

Me: “Why do we want to pick up trash in the garden? What might eat the trash?”
Kindergartener: “Witches.”
Other Kindergartener: “And they’d put a spell on us!!”

Preschooler, holding what is clearly a big stick: “Look at this huge worm I found!”
Other preschooler: “I have four baby worms. They tickle me all day long.”

…and sometimes, while they like the idea of gardening, they approach actual gardening with trepidation…

Me: “Today we’re making bird feeders!”
Preschoolers: “Ewwww!”

Me: “Next, we’re going to plant some flowers!”
2nd grade class: “Yay!”
(mad scramble for flower seeds and pots)
2nd grader: “Um, excuse me, does that mean we have to touch the dirt?”

Kindergarteners, holding their cups full of worms, waiting for instructions.
Me: “Ok, pour your worms out on the table to look at them.”
Kindergarteners pour them out, see the worms, and run away screaming: “AHHHHHH!”


…but most of the time, I think my students should probably be running the world.

Kindergartener: “We have a garden at school just in case something bad happens and then we have food.”

7th grader: “If you grow your own food, you know it don’t have pesticides.”
Other 7th grader: “And you won’t get yellow stuff on your heart and have a stroke.”

Preschooler: “I know that dirt made my lunch.”
2nd graders, overcoming their fear of dirt, chanting: “God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt. Ahhhhh, it’s wet! God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt!”

4th grader, making a plant label: “Look, I put hearts on the part that goes underground, so the plant knows I love it.”

My favorite part about garden education is that young people can learn while being their loud, bouncing-around selves. What they lack in technical gardening knowledge, they make up for with love and enthusiasm. With all that positive energy, the plants will be taller than the kids in no time.

-Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Gateway Greening Youth Educator


Math is Easier with Ears of Corn!

Education in the Garden


I spent Thursday afternoon with 7th graders who absolutely cannot wait another moment to eat corn. I was helping them plan our garden using math. “If a corn plant takes up two square feet,” I said, “and one of your garden beds is eighty square feet, how many corn plants can we grow in that bed?”

Foreheads wrinkled for a moment, and then they almost shouted, “Forty!”

“How many ears of corn grow on one plant?”

“Maybe two!” “Or three!”

“So how many ears of corn do we get to eat?”

“At least eighty!”

There were four boys in that group, and they spent the rest of that class divvying up the imaginary ears of corn among themselves. “I did the most work,” one of them said, “so I’m taking forty and y’all can have the rest.” Protests ensued. Around them, the other groups worked on their projects– counting backwards from the last frost date to make our spring planting calendar, making lists of companion plants, measuring the garden beds outside and finding their areas. “Excuse me Miss Carolyn,” one girl said urgently from across the room, “but what is a coal-rab-y? Should we grow it?” “I’ve never tasted eggplant,” her friend added, “so we have to grow that. What does it taste like?” 


Yes, growing food is all about math and science, but it’s also about magic and suspense. If we plant these things, will they really grow? If they grow, do we really get to eat them? As I look at the weather forecast and see nothing but freezing temperatures ahead, the biggest question on my mind is if spring will ever come. My kindergarten class at Clay Elementary has planted a chaotic jumble of pea seeds in their garden, and are eagerly awaiting their arrival aboveground. Checking their beds this week, there was not a single pea shoot to be seen. We are so anxious for them we could burst.

Leaving the 7th grade yesterday, I said, “I’ll be back in two weeks. Maybe by then it’ll be warm enough to go outside.” Outside! The word rocketed around the room like electricity. Cross your fingers for us. We may be sitting inside this weekend wearing hats and mittens, but we’ll be dreaming of math class with a warm breeze, fresh peas, and some fat ears of corn.

-Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Gateway Greening Youth Educator