Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lessons from Gardening

My mother's birthday request was to go to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens so two of my daughters, my mother and I made a girls' trip out of it and headed for Maine. The girls are 16 and 14 so a garden was not on their top ten list but they love my mom and we stayed at a hotel in Freeport, a decent compromise for teenagers who love to shop since they could literally walk to the outlets.

For any gardeners out there who are reading this and are heading anywhere close to Boothbay Harbor, try to spend some time at these gardens. The gardens are chock full of special plants, incredible hardscapes and inspirational designs. Artists will enjoy the sculptures, painting and designs throughout the gardens. For anyone with young children, it's a magical place with one of the most amazing interactive and inspiring children's garden I could ever imagine. My daughters kept walking around saying that it was just like Princess Chamomile's garden, a reference to a great book by Hiawyn Oram. The children's garden had spouting whales, tree houses, rope-walled balance beams, and a sculpture with one of my favorite poems about reading by Strickland Gillilan:

You may have tangible wealth untold: 
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. 
Richer than I you can never be– 
I had a Mother who read to me. 

I made sure that my daughters read it! For teenagers, the garden offered stone foot massages, meditation blocks, waterfalls, and cute gardeners. (One of the gardeners even showed the girls that frogs eat worms. For a good laugh, check out this video...)

I walked around the gardens in awe of the magnitude, but also thinking as an educator and wondering what lessons the place could inspire in classrooms that are focusing on the Common Core and standards. Within the children's garden was a barn full of picture books. Children sat in rocking chairs alone and with parents taking a break from the sun and enjoying great books. I thought about how important it is to have reading choices and comfortable places for students to read. The kitchen garden also was set up within the children's space and the beans were growing up poles. Someone must have established a contest because the Olympic theme was in play for the beans. Children had been measuring the growth and charting the different plants. Anyone who wanted to participate in the medal predictions could do so by leaving a bean in the corresponding pot for a given plant. What meaningful measurement and graphing opportunities! Peter Rabbit had come to life for some of the children and there were opportunities to wash clothes on old fashioned washing boards. I listened to some of the parents explain how washing machines are a relatively new invention. The children asked questions about history and inventions.

Because I helped to design a five senses garden at my children's elementary school, I am partial to the concept and the Five Senses Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is phenomenal. This is where the girls got foot massages by walking a labyrinth of smooth stones. Sound was the hardest for me to create in my five senses garden. In Maine, they set up stone echo chambers. How cool is that for teaching about sound waves!

I sat in the meditation garden and did some writing while the girls and my mom headed to the gift shop. When we took students on their outdoor education experience, I loved writing with them outside. Sitting there in such peaceful and beautiful surroundings, I found it easy to write; the challenge was stopping since the rest of my group was ready to move on.

Writing this post has inspired me to think of more ways that a place like the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens could be integrated into curriculum across many subjects:

  • the food chain and our responsibility in it
  • composting and the reasons for it
  • imagination across all subjects
  • annuals and perennials and the differences
  • Climates and growing zones
  • Adaptations on the parts of plants and animals
Really, the list is endless and all of the ideas lead to writing. Imagine the persuasive writing children could do about composting if they understood how it helps the environment or the informational writing they could do to explain how perennials survive through winters. We talk and blog and tweet about rigor and relevance. Gardens and nature are so relevant to children! I'd love to hear how others are finding not only science lessons through gardening, but also writing, reading, and social studies lessons, not to mention opportunities for art and cooperative play.

And, this bears repeating, if you have a chance to visit these gardens, don't miss it. I hope you are all enjoying the harvests and warmer waters of August. 

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