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Photos & text by Kristin Mullen,  Early Childhood Program Developer,  Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

A Young Gardener explores the Children's Garden compost bin.

A Young Gardener explores the Children’s Garden compost bin.

While teaching in the Children’s Garden, I always have an ear out for that moment when the children ‘get it.’  And I don’t mean checking the box when they can identify the parts of a plant, list the things that plants need to grow, or name the five senses (although those are important concepts we address in our programs!)  My hope is that their experience with the plants, the critters, the sunshine, and the soil sparks a connection that we might not expect. And best of all — when those connections extend to their day-to-day life at school or at home.

Yesterday  I had the opportunity to lead an energetic group of 1st graders from Sabot at Stony Point through one of our Discovery Programs called Young Gardeners. The bulk of our time was spent at the compost bin, sorting through the compost to explore decomposition and the life cycle of worms. The amazing thing about this particular program? By the time the last child had scooped up their sample of compost and I was back at the picnic tables to ‘lead’ the exploration, the kids were already leading it themselves! They were peering through magnifying lenses and measuring worms with the rulers.  They were verbalizing their observations and making educated guesses about what they were seeing.

Tiny mustard greens planted by first graders at the entrance to the Children's Garden. Come check them out!

Tiny mustard greens planted by 1st graders at the entrance to the Children’s Garden.


To an outsider looking in, it might have seemed chaotic, loud, and unstructured. But these kids were learning about compost and worms the best way possible: by touching, smelling, and talking with each other about compost and worms. And how did I know learning was happening? Among other observations, I heard comments like, “My worm just made compost! It pooped!”

And of course, no program called Young Gardeners would be complete without planting and harvesting in the Farm Garden. The students carefully and proudly planted small plugs of mustard greens in the “Welcome” bed at the entrance to the Children’s Garden… who knew the yellow stuff we squirt on hot dogs comes from a plant?!

Broccoli in the Children's Garden: Not just a beautiful bud!

Broccoli in the Children’s Garden: Not just a beautiful bud!

And they tasted parsley leaves and broccoli fresh from the garden… who knew we were eating broccoli flower buds before they bloomed?!

So, how did I know that these experiences were making an impact on these children beyond the bounds of their field trip? As we were wrapping up and walking back down to the picnic tables, one little boy exclaimed, ‘This was the tastiest field trip ever! The broccoli from the garden tasted so much better than the broccoli from the grocery store!”

Young Gardeners, indeed.

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