2017 Youth 1st Place (tie) – Garden Lesson in a Box, Spokane County, WA

 

Children and Ladybugs

The Washington State University Spokane County Master Gardeners involved in our Youth Program have created seven core gardening lessons geared toward children in Kindergarten through 6th grade.  These lessons were designed to be presented to the Spokane Public Schools after-school child care program called Express, but they have also been presented at a variety of other locations such as public and private school classrooms, church groups, scout troops, and boys’ and girls’ clubs.  Over the past 11 years, we have given these presentations to over 10,000 children.

Each “Garden Lesson in a Box” consists of a syllabus, list of materials, background resource information, and supplies needed for the presentation, all contained within a portable bin which can be easily transported to the presentation site.  The seven lessons with a brief description of each, are:

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:  Garden Creatures:  Using pictures and life cycle models to start, children are introduced to nine different garden creatures (Colorado potato beetles, banana slugs, ground beetles, earwigs, spiders, aphids, praying mantis, ladybird beetles, and pillbugs/sowbugs) and their significance in the garden.  The children then observe and interact with live specimens.  For safety reasons, the children are allowed to handle only the pillbugs/sowbugs which they have to hunt for in open containers of compost. The children color drawings of the creatures and also plant flower seeds in newspaper pots of soil to take home.
  • Three Sisters:  The children act out the Native American story of the three sisters and learn the importance of corn, beans, and squash to the Native Americans and the principles of companion planting.  The children sow seeds of these three vegetables to take home and also color and label pictures of them.
  • Soil:  Children learn the function of plant roots, observe the different components of soil, and learn the value of compost as a soil amendment.  They hunt for living creatures in partially-decomposed compost and learn the function of each in the decomposition process.  The children color pictures of compost creatures and sow vegetable seeds to take home.  Singing along to the song ‘Dirt Made My Lunch’ by the Banana Slug String Band is a fun part of this lesson.
  • Pollination:  Using large felt diagrams of flowers, the children learn the flower parts and their functions, and the role that pollinators play in seed production and food produc
    Three Sisters lesson
    Three Sisters lesson

    tion for humans.  They observe real beehive components and learn how visits to flowers benefit bees.  They sow flower seeds to take home and also color pictures of flowers.

  • The Seed:  Using pictures and large models of bean seeds, the children learn the major parts of a seed which they then identify by dissecting lima beans.  They learn the conditions that seeds need to sprout, and they observe the process of seed germination in pre-planted demonstration materials.  The children create “Personality Pots’ where they sow seeds of rye or radishes in cups of soil on which they have drawn faces (as the seedlings grow, they create “hair” for the face).
  • Vegetable Garden:  We read the book Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, a Common Core text exemplar and funny story about the edible parts of plants.  Then the children are shown real vegetables and identify which parts are eaten by humans.  Using a 4’x4’ square of brown felt as a garden plot and vegetables made from felt, the children lay out a vegetable garden, learning about spacing, sun exposure, succession planting, and vertical gardening.  The children sow seeds of vegetables to grow at home and draw pictures of their dream vegetable garden.  We also sing along to two songs by the Banana Slug String Band, ‘Sun, Soil, Water, and Air’ and ‘Give Plants a Chance.’
  • Trees:  The children act out a fable about deciduous and evergreen trees and learn about the value of trees for humans.  They examine cross-sections of tree trunks, identifying the major parts, and estimating tree age. They make crayon rubbings of different leaves, examine various tree seeds, and plant maple seeds to take home.

Our seven garden lessons cover a variety of garden topics, but in each one, children sow seeds in pots that they take home.  We feel that growing a plant from seed and caring for that plant is a crucial experience for children, allowing them both to witness the wonder of nature and to experience the responsibility of nurturing a living plant.

Vegetable Garden lesson
Vegetable Garden lesson

When we first decided to develop these garden lessons, we wanted to create affordable, fun activities that children would like doing. The homemade materials (felt boards and figures, felt vegetables, felt flower diagrams, seed models made from clay) were not difficult to design and make and were constructed by Master Gardeners with no crafting experience.  These materials are intriguing to children who love handling them, thus providing a tactile experience which adds to their learning.  Including songs to sing and stories to act out involves the children on an active level which helps to hold their interest and makes the lessons very enjoyable.

Purchased durable supplies include plastic bins (about $15 each), mesh insect cages (about $10 each), ladybird beetle and praying mantis life cycle models (about $6 each), and a portable CD player (about $20).  Supplies that need to be regularly replenished include seeds, potting soil, zipper-lock plastic bags, styrofoam cups for the ‘Personality Pots,’  live ladybird beetles (about $6), and praying mantis egg sacs (about $10).   Live garden creatures other than ladybird beetles are collected by Master Gardeners from their own gardens and compost piles.  Pots for children to sow seeds in are made from old newspapers by the Master Gardeners.  Handouts and pictures to color are easily found on the Internet and printed out.

Having a self-contained lesson enables a Master Gardener to present a lesson with a minimum of preparation.  These lessons can also be modified by the person doing the presentation.  Some presenters like to add more information and some omit certain activities that they are not comfortable with (such as singing a song).  Although the lessons were originally designed for children in grades K-6, they can be, and have been, modified for younger and older children as well.  The presentations are usually 45-60 minutes in length but can be shortened or lengthened depending on the age and number of the children participating.

Children look forward to our presentations and enjoy the time they spend with us.  We regularly receive charming thank-you notes from the children which include comments such as these:  “I like how you taught us. I liked when we did the play. The bugs were cool.”  “I love the fun active games. I loved learning about pollen and good and bad bugs.”  “I like the song you taught us too!”  “You showed us how plants grow.”

We have a lot of fun with the children in these presentations, and especially enjoy seeing their delight at discovering the joys of gardening.

 

Children and Ladybugs For further information, please contact Tim Kohlhauff at tkohlhauff@spokanecounty.org

2017 Youth 1st Place (tie) – Catherine Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program, University of Rhode Island

Catherine Desourdy School Garden Mentors (SGMs) are specially trained University of Rhode Island (URI) Extension Master Gardeners who volunteer in schools on behalf of URI Cooperative Extension’s School Garden Initiative. This project, which tied for second place in the 2017 Extension Master Gardener Search for Excellence Youth Category, cultivates a love of nature, a respect for all living things, and a foundation in natural sciences for school-aged youth. Over sixty schools in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut have partnered with URI Master Gardeners to help children of all ages learn about the world around them and how to become its stewards.

The award will be given on July 11 at the General Session of the International Master Gardener Conference in Portland, Oregon.  The Search for Excellence is the recognition program for outstanding Extension Master Gardener projects throughout the United States, Canada and South Korea.

The garden at Waddington Elementary in East Providence, Rhode Island, has helped the children feel closer to nature and empowered to help protect it.  Art teacher/ URI Master Gardener Melissa Guillet has them study live insects and draw and make models from specimens. They look for evidence of tracks, scat, and homes, plant veggies, share salad, soups, and teas with their produce, and learn to work as a team.  They learn how seeds travel, seeking seeds out in the fall, and design their own seed packs.  They make art out of leaves and identify trees.  It’s non-stop exploration at this school, even measuring soil moisture and rainfall to track el Nino for GLOBE and NASA and designing their own anemometers!  They do this all through collaborations with URI Master Gardeners Desourdy School Gardens program, Barrington Land Trust, ASRI, parents, other volunteers, and the environmental curriculum developed by Melissa Guillet through 15 Minute Field Trips™.

Hamilton Elementary School in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, focused more exclusively on sustainable “green” gardening practices. Everyone learned about the importance of companion planting and its Abenaki Native American origins at the school’s Three Sisters Garden. Later, they planted a square-foot garden bed and harvested food for nearby food pantries.

Two hundred Cluny Elementary School children, in Newport, Rhode Island, gardened in the winter by planting seeds under hoop coverings and in ziplock bags, which were placed in milk containers in the snow. They also planted a raspberry patch and apple trees. At their plant sale students made $80 selling their own lettuce and that money was used in other school garden projects.  They hope to create a rain garden next year and hook up rain barrels to water their beds.

The School Garden Mentor project is named for the late URI Master Gardener, Catherine Desourdy, whose family made a bequest in her name after her death in 2008.  Its main purpose has been to connect youth to gardening. More than 13,000 children have learned to value growing locally, to understand the importance of vegetables in a healthy diet, the role of pollinators and beneficial insects, the need to recycle, and the stages of growth in plants, among other things. As Vanessa Venturini, URI Master Gardener State Program Leader says, “School gardens serve as living laboratories, giving students access to authentic learning environments to help them learn science, math, social studies and other concepts.”

Testimonies from those taking part prove her point. One teacher cites overhearing a boy instructing his grandfather on the importance of planting marigolds to “keep the bad bugs away” instead of spraying seedlings, which would “kill the bees and the good bugs” as well. Another recounts the responses of first graders to learning about vermicomposting, “We didn’t really like worms but now that we know how important they are to helping our earth and our garden grow, we love them.”

More than fifty URI Master Gardeners currently serve as mentors, with more interns training each year. A team of regional “School Garden Mentor Managers”organize and support the mentors.  School garden Mentors assist classroom teachers in a number of ways:

  • Bringing together school garden teams consisting of teachers, staff, parents and students to ensure long-term success and continuity;
  • Helping them make decisions in the garden such as choosing a site and selecting appropriate plants
  • Completing soil tests and making recommendations for amending beds prior to planting
  • Providing access to standards-based curricula for use in the garden classroom
  • Supplying school gardens with donations of seeds and seedling donations for pollinator and vegetable gardens
  • Making available the URI Gardening & Environmental Hotline, URI Plant Clinic and other URI Cooperative Extension resources to troubleshoot

The first School Garden Mentors volunteered in three suburban elementary schools in 2011.  Since then the project has expanded to include public and private schools, reaching K-12 students in urban and rural areas as well. As of 2016, a partnership has developed between URI Cooperative Extension and the Providence Public School District to develop and support school gardens on a district level.  This School Garden Initiative has generated best practices which are then shared through continuing education classes designed for School Garden Mentors working statewide.

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Youth 2nd Place (tie) – Science With Attitude (SWAt), Denton County, TX

Who we are? Beginning in 2009, the Denton County Master Gardener Association (DCMGA) began partnering with Elm Fork Master Naturalists, 4-H and Denton County School Districts to offer a summer in-service teacher training program focused around the Junior Master Gardener curriculum. Each year after the inception, additional course material was added. In 2013 teachers, who completed the enhanced summer training program, requested an outreach program for their students to ensure year-around education about horticulture, the environmental impact of human behavior and general nature topics.

set up for the fish demostrationIn 2014 because of requests from our trained teachers, the team created a plan to expand our efforts by establishing an educational outreach program providing research-based gardening and environmental education directly to children using guided observation and demonstrations.  The Science With Attitude (SWAt) Educational Outreach program launched in 2015 offering 17 topic choices selected or suggested by the teachers during their SWAt training.

What we do? Any educator in Denton County may request a presentation or demonstration from SWAt by registering and selecting a topic from the menu maintained on the DCMGA website. Available topics include but are not limited to: vegetable gardening, honeybees, worm composting, wildlife observation and habitats, birds, wildflowers, saving water and understanding the environmental impact of human behavior. Depending on the selected topic, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, 4-H youth or a combination of these volunteers conduct the presentation or demonstration. Each training or demonstration topic has associated materials and instructions stored in the DCMGA resource room.

Before the presentation: After receiving the educational outreach request from an educator, the scheduling coordinator identifies an event leader who confirms date, time and location with the requester. Additional volunteers are requested depending on the class size and the nature of the activity. Just prior to the training event, the leader picks up the training materials from the DCMGA resource room, confirms the completeness of the contents of the topic storage bin, and signs out the materials from the resource room.

The project event team reviews the lesson plan with particular emphasis on the interactive activities that include interaction with the children and reinforces the lessons to be learned.

During the educational activity: In addition to covering the training materials, event volunteers strive to ensure enthusiasm, fun and interaction opportunities for attendees. Some activities lend themselves to hands-on interactions for the students, while others may be a presentation. Questions are encouraged and students are gently quizzed about what they lelearing about native plants and butterfliesarned and how they might change their future behavior after learning the lessons.

After the presentation: The event leader thanks the teacher and students and offers support for any follow-on activities the teacher has planned. The materials are inventoried to determine if orders need to be placed to refresh the supplies and the entire kit is returned to the DCMGA resource room.

Where we have been?

  • Fifty-Nine Master Gardeners supported the SWAt program at some time during 2015-2016 with nine contributors providing continuity from the beginning. The SWAt team reported 3,689 volunteer hours in 2015-2016 of which approximately 50% were in support of educational outreach to youth projects.
  • Thirty-Five Master Naturalists volunteers provided over 1,000 hours of service in support of SWAt Educational Outreach.
  • In 2016 volunteers engaged 2,601 youth at 48 elementary and pre-schools.
  • In 2015 volunteers engaged 3,795 youth responding to 44 requests from 8 school districts.

Where we are going? Each year the team receives excellent suggestions from teachers and team members about how we can make SWAt Outreach more responsive to the needs of our community. As we plan for the next semester, we list potential additions and changes, consider the ability of the team to implement each and then rank and schedule. In the near termstram trailer demostration, we are considering:

  • Increasing the data collected during presentations or demonstrations and reported on the SWAt evaluation form
  • Adding evening classes and activities
  • Tailoring some of the demonstrations to support graduated levels of complexity
  • Tying our educational activities into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skill standards program
  • Automating some of the registration, contact hours and attendance tracking and tying registrations to the SWAt calendar and material’s inventory