By Diana Lawrence, Extension Master Gardener
University of Vermont
Each newly certified student of University of Vermont Extension's Master Gardener program is required to contribute 40 hours of volunteer time in garden-related activities to his or her community. As a graduate of the program, I can say that this is hardly onerous, since once you've spent the winter studying plants in the course, you can't wait to do something about it.
Although the nature of the volunteering is up to the individual, four
criteria must be met: the project must be educational, it must be
horticultural in nature, there can be no compensation, and it must in some
way strengthen the Master Gardener program. I chose to do a little
"kindergardening." These activities are well-suited for early elementary
school teachers to try in the classroom, or for parents to do with their kids at home.
My son's kindergarten teacher graciously allowed me to try my hand at teaching. Although I'd never been at the front of the classroom before, my fears soon dissipated. Children take to plants like ducks to water. You can smell plants, feel them, taste them, play with them, grow them, and read about them. This means that no matter which way a child learns best, there's a plant for the purpose!
We began by studying seeds and photosynthesis, reading books that described germination and the conditions plants need to grow. While the kids painted their individual clay pots (using nature stencils and muffin pans filled with paint), we talked about different kinds of seeds, how they travel, and the flow of food and water. I spoke about dicots and monocots, and we pretended to be roots, sucking up water through straws.
During my second visit, we potted bean and sunflower seeds, read stories
about composting and beneficial insects, and colored pages with butterflies,
ladybugs, bean plants, and sunflowers that I downloaded from the Internet.
That visit was followed by a session on seed art, where we drew pictures
of gardens with glue and decorated them with dried peas, sunflower seeds,
pinto beans, and birdseed. We discussed the ways plants contribute
to our lives, giving us medicine, shade, oxygen, food, paper,
fabric, and perfume.
Bulbs were the most fun. We read a book on the parts of a plant
and learned what a bulb was, and then talked about how daffodils and tulips
grow. We used yellow baking cups, tongue depressors, and green construction
paper to make daffodils of our own, then planted paperwhites and amaryllis
and watched them grow, day by day. The scent was
overpowering, and the children found it fascinating.
Best of all, we dissected onions and garlic bulbs, tasting them and peeling them until the classroom smelled like an Italian restaurant. I had to go home and make spaghetti afterwards.
Several of the children had never been in a garden, so I brought a number
of herbs to school for them to smell and taste. We discussed the
different ways to use parsley, dill, cilantro, mint, sage, and rosemary,
sitting in a circle on the carpet while I passed the plants around and
each child touched the leaves, inhaled the fragrance, and took a nibble
("So that's what makes pickles taste so good!" one of the kids exclaimed.).
made lavender sachets for Mother's Day out of dried lavender, ribbons, and circles of chintz fabric cut with pinking shears.
Last, we took a trip to a local greenhouse to learn about propagation,
different varieties of plants, and the conditions flowers need to germinate
and grow. Each child came home with a six-pack of pansies (which
my son called "cupcake flowers" because of their square root balls).
One boy busied himself tearing all of the flowers off the plants, which
gave me the opportunity to talk about the benefits of deadheading.
I just never told
his mother what he had done!