Monday, April 30, 2012

Great Gardening

Most people agree that gardening is a great experience for children, and the organic garden at our school is one of the things that parents find attractive about our campus. But did you ever wonder what exactly they learn from gardening? Well, if you did, wonder no more. The following is a list of the ways gardening can be used as part of a Montessori curriculum, blending into all areas of the classroom... or any learning environment, really. It was originally written over a year ago, as part of a grant application. Although we weren't chosen to receive the grant, it was still useful to put all of the ideas together in one place, so we can try to be consistent about applying them :) Here they are! Orange text has been changed from the original or added.

Toddler (18 months to 3 years):
Practical Life: the garden provides practical life experiences such as food preparation, planting, and harvesting. The toddlers will be able to plant and harvest low-maintenance fruits and vegetables, leading to discussions about where food comes from and how it grows. They will have first-hand experience using the food grown in the garden for simple food preparation activities, such as cucumber cutting. Practical life activities such as gardening also help to promote independence, fine motor coordination, concentration, and respect for one's environment. In addition, the garden serves an an introduction to cultivated plants and the ways that people use them, giving a glimpse of cross-cultural values.
Language: using the garden, the toddlers will learn the names of fruits and vegetables, as well as the names of the parts of the plants (root, stem, leaf, branch, petal, stamen, pistil, etc). They will learn to classify plants as flowers, vegetables, or fruits. They will also learn the terminology associated with gardening activity, such as the names of the tools used, and words that are introduced as part of the science lessons.
Science: the garden provides opportunities to briefly introduce the children to the idea of chemistry. For example, they will learn that plant matter breaks into pieces and and becomes food for new plants. They will also learn that the plant needs certain things, such as sunlight and water, in order to stay alive. The garden will also provide entomology experiences, as well as the opportunity to observe insects in their natural habitat and discuss how they help or hinder plant growth.

Primary (3-6 years):
Practical Life: the primary children will continue to learn the lessons begun in the toddler class, with greater breadth and more independence. The food preparation activities will become more complicated.
Mathematics: food preparation begins to incorporate measurements and numbers. The children may count the number of fruits on a given plant or the number of plants in the garden.
Sensorial: The garden will be associated with lessons using the five senses. Children will smell the plants and classify the scents, taste the foods and label them as sweet, salty, sour, or bitter, and play games comparing size of plants or fruits. They will also be able to touch the plants and determine texture. They may play listening games in the garden, to see if the wildlife nearby makes a noise, or if the wind rustles the leaves, and compare the sound of plucking a ripe food as opposed to an unripe one.
Language: primary children will experience a greater breadth of terminology, particularly incorporating the language from the sensorial work, as well as writing experiences such as listing the plants in the garden. Children may be given opportunities to create their own recipes using the fruits and vegetables they have harvested. Children who are able to read will be offered the opportunity to read planting directions or recipes and lead the other children.
Science: The lessons started in the toddler class become more defined, and present a clear cycle. Children are able to do plant dissections and labeling.

Elementary (6-12 years):
Practical life: food preparation becomes even more complex, using many different types of food in one recipe. Foods may be cooked, dried, or ground for later use. Gardening can be done with very little intervention. Students may have experience canning foods when the garden produces too much for immediate consumption. Elementary students may also be given daily tasks to care for and maintain the garden, such as checking moisture levels in the soil or inspecting the fence to ensure that rabbits and birds are excluded.
Mathematics and Science: children can measure the area of each planting space, and determine how many plants will fit in the area. They can also take measurements on how long a plant takes to germinate or provide fruit, or measure the size of a single fruit and see how it changes from day to day or week to week. The children can discuss in detail the biology of plants, and the inter-relations between different plants, insects, and animals. They can also measure the acidity of the soil or the fruits and vegetables, using litmus paper made from cabbage leaves, which they can harvest from garden cabbages. The children can do experiments using the garden plants as controls, then isolating different variables on class plants to see what changes.
Language and Culture: the elementary children can do research to find out which plants grow well in our climate, what some common challenges are, and what the plants need in order to be healthy. They can write about their experiences or leave notes for future classmates, to share what they have learned. Elementary children may also write songs or dramatic pieces detailing the growth or life-cycle of the garden, to share with younger students. They will learn about where each type of plant comes from, and how different cultures traditionally use them. Recipes used (at any level) will be chosen from various cultural backgrounds.

Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

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