Elementary students cultivate lessons of community.
There are few things more heartwarming than watching a child engage with nature. And, at schools across the White Bear Lake area, teachers have incorporated learning gardens into curriculum, encouraging students to discover connections between food systems and nature in a digestible way.
From seed to spaghetti day, second-grade students at Oneka Elementary learn all about growing and harvesting food at their outdoor garden. As part of teacher Amy Corner’s planting and growing unit, students add soil, plant seeds and tend crops in six farm troughs.
“When it’s theirs they get excited about the wonder of it all,” says Corner. “When they found a caterpillar on a leaf—it’s the … miracles that inspire the kids, piques their curiosity and helps them ask questions.”
Activities in the outdoor classroom are aimed to help students strengthen skills in science, math, reading, writing and researching. Corner says students can often be found leaning on the troughs reading or doing math on clipboards.
And there are also lifelong lessons being taught throughout the year, such as patience, transformation and nutrition. Marigolds that bloomed throughout the warm months are left over winter to dry and be opened as the weather warms.
“Every single dried bud has over 100 seeds,” Corner says. “The kids count and sort them into groups of 10, so there’s a lot of learning going on through those types of experiences.”
Her students’ favorite part of the year is spaghetti day, a day in autumn designated to harvesting and eating herbs, tomatoes and peppers from their garden.
“It’s super fun,” Corner says. “We read books about spaghetti, sing songs like On Top of Spaghetti and do math with spaghetti—making triangles and rectangles with our raw noodles.”
In summer, kindergarten–grade five students in the extended day program’s gardening club nurture the garden. Guided by Oneka Elementary activity lead Sheila Higgins, the club weeds, waters, trellises and harvests the vegetables and herbs. All produce is donated to Hugo Good Neighbors Food Shelf.
“The kids love that what we grow goes to families in need in Hugo, so they get a sense of pride,” Higgins says.
And when the garden comes to life, producing a variety of goods, the students get to take their favorites home.
“[It’s] just so much fun to watch,” Higgins says. “The conversations that happen in the garden are priceless.”
Come September, Corner will welcome a new second grade class to the outdoor garden to harvest the tomatoes, herbs and zucchini planted by their predecessors.
“I hope and pray it inspires them to grow stuff and say, ‘Mom, let’s do a little garden’ or ‘Dad, let’s try this’ to try it on their own,” Corner says.
For many kids, the outdoor classroom is their first time planting a seed, nurturing a garden and tasting a fresh tomato warmed by the sun. This fall, Corner is expanding into more student-led learning where students guide lessons by uncovering the answers to their own questions.