Students will be arriving back at school during peak harvest time for late summer fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of this magical time in the garden by engaging children with these fun garden exploration activities:
Bring students out to the garden and show them how their garden has grown. You can have them develop a self-guided tour / map for garden visitors and other classes, as well. Students always are amazed at how big their seedlings have grown, or are surprised to hear how Mr. Rabbit mowed down their green bean plants. Learning why some plants didn’t live also is an important lesson.
The Digital Garden
This is an excellent time to incorporate technology with the garden: Let students take digital photos, make i-movies, and document plant life stages, insects, abstract shapes, textures, colors… whatever inspires them... to share with each other and their social networks. You might want to hold a contest in the school or community to raise awareness for your garden project.
Harvest and Tastings
With gardens at their peak bounty, ask students to help harvest after a brief lesson on how to determine if a fruit or vegetable is ripe. Encourage them to taste cherry tomatoes or green beans off the vine (only if no chemicals were applied at any time) and pick items to take home or for the local food pantry. If you have the ability to wash and prepare produce, consider holding a tasting of the different fruits and vegetables students have grown. Or, have students help you prepare recipes – an excellent starting point to discuss healthy eating habits. The children’s book, Our Super Garden, features 20 kid-tested recipes from youth garden programs across the country.
Sensory Treasure Hunts
Encourage children to explore the garden using all five senses. Create a grid-based worksheet that lets students check off colors, shapes, scents, textures, even sounds, found in your garden. Be sure to introduce students to herbs. They find them fascinating! Have them crush leaves between their fingers and smell, or nibble on the leaves. Chives, mint, lemon verbena, basil, parsley and dill are sure-fire favorites. What does this smell like? What foods do we use this in?
Read a book about color, insects, community (the options are endless!) and make a connection afterward by exploring the garden. Give students magnifying glasses or trowels and notebooks with guidelines for documenting what they observe. Encourage them to write down three questions resulting from their observations and then visit the library or Internet to find answers.
Document and Plan for Next Year
After exploring, have students make a collective “record” of this year’s garden – what grew well, what didn’t, what fruit / vegetable they liked most or least – and areas and ideas for improvement for next year. It’s never too early to create excitement for next year’s project.
copyright Anne Nagro