When we learn to use a new tool, we are rarely adept at using it right away. As an educator, I never simply hand a kindergartener a knife and walk away. I scaffold the experience so that they can gradually build their own ability to cut safely and effectively.
When a teacher sees a CitySprouts garden at her school for the first time, she has an opportunity to work with me to figure out how the garden could support her classroom curriculum. Erica Pastor,4th grade teacher at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School (OGPS) in Roxbury is up for the challenge. As a Cambridge parent, Erica was already familiar with the value of a school garden when the OGPS garden was built in 2012, but she wasn’t quite sure where to begin.
Erica started by participating in a few tried and tested CitySprouts activities that first 2012-2013 school year. Following the lead of CitySprouts staff, she brought her classes outside for a scavenger hunt, cider pressing, and The Great Bean Race. She saw her students respond to the garden and began to gather ideas about how it could support her curriculum. The following year, 2013-2014 said she wanted to work on “just getting kids in the dirt.” We rooted their plans and activities in the Three Sisters Garden, where students cultivated corn, beans, and squash in way that mirrored methods Native Wampanoag people have employed for generations. Small groups of students visited the garden each week to get hands on enrichment of the topics they were exploring in social studies with Erica.
Last year, Erica incorporated even more garden activities into her teaching. She started by getting her students comfortable being outside and making detailed observations. The children’s abilities to look closely, notice changes, and record information in words and pictures became the focus of weekly garden visits.
This year we addressed one of the biggest challenges we face in our school gardens: how to engage so many kids in such a small space, Erica and I created “garden centers,” with each center suitable for a small group of children.
After discussing educational and skill-building goals for the class, we divided Erica’s class into five small groups, each working on a different activity. Some students worked on expanding their skill in observational drawing while other explored the digging bed, engaging their need for physical activity while unearthing both worms and questions about the natural world. Erica took another group to the class’s garden bed where they collected data on their plants and assessed the plants’ needs for water and care.
When I first hand a child a shovel or a rake, they are often unsure how to hold it. Regardless of the power of the tool, it takes time to hone one’s ability to use it effectively and efficiently. Erica Pastor’s journey with her school garden is one example of what that evolution can look like. She is engaged in exactly the kind of learning process we hope to create for our students– pushing herself each year to go farther and do better.