Mint, mum, mulch…

Garden educators know that it is challenging to work with a full class in the garden.  Most garden tasks just don’t lend themselves to 25 (or more) kids.  As such, I am experimenting with creating “discovery-based” activities that spread the kids out independently, with the teacher giving content and instruction up front and then acting as a resource to the kids as they complete the task.  Yesterday’s lesson confirmed to me that this is a good way to go, with dozens of opportunities to teach words and concepts one on one.

I enjoyed the alphabet scavenger hunt with first grade so much that I decided to adapt it to fourth grade.  To begin, students gathered at the table.  I told them that the day’s lesson was paying attention when we’re in the garden, for two reasons. One, there is always something going, and you’ll miss it if you’re checked out.  Two, Mrs. Elisara is sneaky.

I then gave a ten minute talk on what’s current in the garden.  As I spoke, I referenced a list of vocabulary words on the white board behind me: cool season vegetables, annuals, perennials, solar fountain, photovoltaic cell, etc.  At the end we repeated all the words together.  Then I erased them.

I explained that there were 26 clipboards with crayons placed around the perimeter of the garden in alphabetical order, clock-wise.  Students could go up to any clipboard and write down a word they “saw, heard or felt” in the garden.  If the word was already on the sheet, they couldn’t repeat it.  The clipboard had to be put back in the same place.  It was perfectly OK to ask an adult for the names of things.  (We had four volunteers on hand to teach vocabulary to every child who really paid attention to this rule!)  Every word used the first time was one worth one point. Every time a child had to be asked not to run—minus one point.  Every word that was on the board that I talked about earlier:  worth three points!  (Sneaky!)

Points would be awarded for creative words but not silly ones, and the top five point-earners would be invited to have lunch in the garden the following day with me, with a special garden treat (zucchini bread).

Read the “M” list, with special attention on the last word!

Sculpture from the water’s edge

A solar fountain—on the wish list from the beginning of the project and now a charming, bubbling reality in the garden.

I’ve mentioned that I am now part of a network of Master Gardeners in San Diego County (I’ve written about it here and here.)  We have a listserv on which I posted a question about solar fountains.  The garden club decided to buy one, and I was looking for recommendations to help me sort through all of the on-line options.  Running water in the garden is one of the few things we don’t have, and I knew kids would love seeing it pumped by the sun.  I figured—not everything in the garden has to be unique—a nice, standard, store-bought fountain will be just fine.  But then….

My classmate, Deirdre Allen, wrote to me to let me know she was currently making fountains.  We had been seat mates during a MG fieldtrip, and I remembered seeing iphone photos of the beautiful pottery she does at home. A great price, a few e-mailed pictures, and next thing you know, she’s in Julian installing a gorgeous handcrafted piece.

(Meanwhile) the 2012 Master Gardener class has been self-organizing trips to see each other’s gardens.  On Monday I had the pleasure of hosting my classmates at the school garden, including Deirdre, and I cloaked the fountain so that we could officially welcome it to its new garden home.

Thank you Stan Miller for all of the photos above!

Isn’t it beautiful?  It’s nestled next to our dry riverbed, to which it lends the lovely spilling sound of water.  The river stones in the basin and the tree stump make it look as though it was always meant to be in that exact spot.  Deirdre’s business is called “Sculpture from the Water’s Edge” (she lives in a San Diego beach city), and you can call her with questions and/or orders at 713-857-5637.