Every spring, students at the Grove School in Cary, N.C. plant a garden.
But this isn’t just any garden. There are pizza gardens, salsa gardens and salad gardens. And the students do more than just plant veggies and fruits and harvest them when ripe – much more.
That’s because gardening is an integral part of the curriculum at Grove School year-round.
Early in the year, children and teachers brainstorm ideas for what to plant for spring. Once the children decide, teachers put out a list for families, who donate the plants and supplies needed for planting.
Once the supplies have been purchased, parents, staff, and the school’s 87 children gather on a spring day to clean out and plant the school’s four garden beds, 20 to 30 pots, and a trellis area for vines for the upcoming season. This year, the event will be held on Saturday, April 23 – the day after Earth Day.
Once the beds and pots have been planted – and the prekindergarten children have sung the germination song – the children spend time there every day, watering, pulling weeds and watching their gardens grow. Teachers at the school hold classes or snack time outdoors in the gardens every day, year-round.
“The gardens are part of the Grove School’s overall philosophy: Healthy Mind, Healthy Body, Healthy Planet,” said Lorrie Schelke, Head of School. “Teachers can take their children out to the gardens at any time.”
Children talk about the grapevines and what’s growing beneath their feet. They touch and smell the plants and taste the herbs as they grow – using all five senses to experience the world around them.
Once it’s time to harvest the fruits of their labor, the children take photos of the fruits and veggies they grew. And then, the best part: eating! Teachers help the children cut up the fruits and veggies for snacks and meals. Sometimes the classrooms create salads, pizzas and other dishes from their ingredients.
With cooking and eating come more learning. The children learn about counting when combining ingredients, and are introduced to new veggies and fruits – some for the first time ever.
“Once the beds are harvested, it doesn’t end there,” Schelke said. “The point is showing the children how to take care of the garden and what it means. It’s so exciting to watch the children plant all those things knowing they helped pick it out and plant it.”
Parents benefit from the garden too: as peppers and cilantro and eggplants are harvested, there’s plenty to share with families at the end of the day. The learning continues at home, where parents and children may use the fruits and veggies in a recipe like garlic mashed potatoes. The next morning, parents share what they made with the rest of the school.
“This is how we live here at Grove,” Schelke said. “All my families are organic in their homes. Many are vegan. That’s why they chose Grove.”
Once summer ends, each group of children plants a fall garden bed, and garden lessons continue in the greenhouse. In the fall and into the winter, children learn about composting and growing winter veggies like collards, spinach and lettuce.
“Seeing a child planting a blueberry bush, watching it grow in the garden, pointing out what they helped plant and grow – it is so fun,” Schelke said. “For a child to understand they created that experience from beginning to end – there’s so much pride in that accomplishment.”