Kids. Grow. Gardens.

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Plant labels

I’m learning the hard way of the importance of using labels when you plant your seeds. Being new to growing things (other than weeds) I rushed home from my first Urban Farming Tasmania seed sharing session and planted a few of everything. Now I have these mysterious seedlings bursting forth, but no idea of what they are. Summer will be full of surprises!  The novelty of that will wear off I’m sure, so now I’m getting the girls to label everything we plant. We love the awesome plant label ideas at the Microgardener blog.

As well as avoiding ‘surprise seedling syndrome’, labelling and dating everything we plant is authentic literacy learning in action. Young children practice writing their own names, learn to read and write the names of plants, and understand the conventions of writing the date – for the authentic purpose of knowing and monitoring what they are growing. If the class also keeps a gardening log book, children can record the details of what they planted and when. The gardening log and the seedlings then present authentic numeracy learning opportunities such as measuring and tracking seedling growth, calculating growing patch dimensions and planning for the planting out of the seedlings.

Beyond these curriculum related opportunites, growing food also develops a foundational life literacy – the understanding of where food comes from (i.e. the earth rather than the factory or the supermarket shelves!). Through being part of a growing community, children can come to understand a great deal about the systems of life that sustain us.

Simple labelling strategies include:

Writing name of seed planted, by whom, and planting date:

– on the egg carton (a great free biodegradable seed starter tray)

– on milk bottle labels using permanent markers

– on ice cream sticks

– on pegs

– on plastic pieces cut from milk bottles using permanent markers


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food first: sharing resources

Some ideas from the professional learning session for early childhood educators led by Dr Nadine McCrea.20131120-090907.jpg

Food is more than just a basic need, it’s an everyday opportunity for engaging young children with sustainability learning.

Under the NQS, the Quality Improvement Plan requires educators to revisit their philosophy. Sustainability learning provides many opportunities to consider your own values as an educator working with young children. Sustainability is much more than ‘just thinking about the environment’; the United Nations perspective is that sustainability involves economic, social and political dimensions in addition to the environmental aspects of life.

A series of sustainability resources were shared including:

UNESCO four dimensions of sustainability

The Earth Charter for children

Consumption Manifesto

Learning ‘in’, ‘about’ and ‘for’ the environment. A good NQS PLP Newsletter on this theme

8 Aboriginal ways of learning website – this offers a terrific Aboriginal pedagogical framework based around the processes and relations of learning.

Cycles of food.

Health promoting settings.

Emergences of the PL evening.

After a discussion of these and more resources for introducing sustainability ideas, Yvonne asked “What about introducing Aboriginal perspectives through food and gardens?” This set off numerous conversations – about the children visiting Riawunna where they explored a bush tucker garden. Some educators added what they knew of other people working in the area of introducing Aboriginal perspectives to young children. In addition to growing bush tucker plants, ideas were shared about learning about bush medicine plants and beginning to grow native species in the gardens. As there was significant interest in this discussion Nadine suggested a future professional learning event might be worthwhile focusing just on the area of Aboriginal perspectives.

Many ideas were shared around food being incorporated in numerous ways into learning including making pictographs with food; reducing waste through litterless lunchboxes; and food growing initiatives as fund raising ideas.

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food first: An ECEC professional learning session

Last night I had the pleasure of attending and participating in the food first professional learning session led by Dr Nadine McCrea and Di Nailon at LGUN Child Care Centre. In addition to the 16 educators who attended from the centre, there were 8 from other centres around Launceston.

A tour of a childrens’ room

We began with a tour of some of the rooms led by LGUN’s educators. In Yvonne and Maree’s room I saw a child-centred focus, where sustainability learning appeared to be embedded in their philosophy and practices. This was evident to me in the daily discovery book which documents the children’s daily adventures within the room and also in the design of the indoor and outdoor spaces.

Notable sustainability links in Yvonne and Maree’s room and garden

The vegetable garden outside is not one single formal patch, but is made up of numerous patches which are dotted here and there, showing that growing food can be done with an outdoor space of any size or dimension. Along the fence is a small bamboo contained potato bed. Yvonne shared that the children talk about the potatoes being asleep in the their bed and Maree pointed out how using straw to build up the bed has enabled the children to watch the potatoes grow as the straw can be lifted back to check in on their progress. Silverbeet, strawberries, carrots and an apricot tree are all thriving in the garden with children in charge of watering the plants using the rainwater tank that has been connected up to the roof drain. Two compost heaps and a worm farm are fed by the children’s food scraps and in turn are used by the children in returning nutrients back to the soil for the plants growing there.

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In addition to the vegetables and fruit growing in the garden, butterfly attracting flowering plants are dotted here and there. While they suffer from the occasional frisbee landing in them, Yvonne pointed out how the children have become respectful of the plantings throughout the outdoor garden, indicating that while at the start of the year children may have picked at or broken plants, now they understood that these plants grow for a reason, that they were food and that it was their job to look after them. I see this as important early learnings towards children developing an ethic of care. Further than this though, I see a respect for children’s ability to be responsible contributors to their society, engaging in the authentic work of growing food and tending their garden. Maree pointed to one of the raised vegetable beds made from timber and explained that the children had helped build that bed. Having children be actively involved in the construction of their space builds their sense of belonging to the space, because they have participated in the design of their environment.

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Stimulating children’s design thinking

In the room’s outdoor area, there are a number of interesting structures and installations which provide authentic opportunities for children to play with designing structures and spaces. One is a bush hut constructed from teatree limbs and found branches which were brought in to the centre. The children participated in the assembly of the hut which has now become a permanent installation. Beans and nasturtiums have been planted along the outside in the hope that they will grow up the frame becoming living walls in the process. In the corner of the yard is a rudimentary shelter under construction. Here the children are forming ‘walls’ from some long dried grasses and pieces of flax through the fence, while small branches drape over the top forming the ‘roof’. Rocks form the front border of this space which is clearly an ongoing work in progress and a labour of love for the children. Yvonne pointed out that the rocks don’t always stay there. Sometimes the children move them closer to the sandpit to make an imaginary fireplace, and last week they built a wall out of them. We talked about the difference between objects such as fixed plastic playground equipment which has only one way of being used, and objects like the rocks, which enable children’s agency through providing them with the ability to shape and reshape their space as they wish.

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Connecting with Australia’s Aboriginal past, present and future

Nature also appears inside Yvonne and Maree’s room, with branches, pot plants and natural materials being part of the learning spaace. I was struck by the Launching into Learning wall which displays extracts from Belonging, Being, Becoming, combined with messages about children’s rights, the importance of working with families to build strong learners, and highlighting children’s many literacies. The adjacent wall presents a curated display of Aboriginal art and artefacts alongside a beautiful paper mache assemblage of Uluru created by the children. Included in the display is a small poster of Jarwoyn language, providing a list of indigenous words for various landmarks. Yvonne explained she had acquired it during her time in the Northern Territory. Clearly this is an area Yvonne is passionate about and I think there is some curiosity there which could be fascinating to explore. I wondered if Yvonne and Maree might like to share a journey with the children next year of working with some local Aboriginal elders to compile and make a similar language translation poster translating the words for local landmarks like the Tamar River, Mount Arthur, and local trees and animals. In this way, the children’s early literacy learning could include learning the original names for the nature of the area in the language of its first people and custodians.

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Reflection by Sherridan. 20/11/13.