Garden Clubs

At both of the schools where I work as garden educator, we have lunchtime Garden Clubs.  These are the groups that do a large chunk of the work in the gardens: prepping garden beds, seeding, watering, weeding…  I have great crews at both of the schools – it’s so much fun working with them!

Sign-up for the clubs happened a little bit differently at the two schools, so the make-up of the two groups is slightly different.  At the new garden, a couple of teachers who teach older grades chose club members from among their students who were interested in taking part.  In that Garden Club, the students are mostly in grades 4 and 5, with a couple of grade 3s as well.  The Spiderweb garden has a younger Garden Club – the majority are from grades 2 and 3, with a handful of grade 1 and 4 students as well.

There are lots of reasons for the students signing up for the Garden Clubs.  Some of them have done some gardening with their parents and/or grandparents and want to do more at school.  (It’s hilarious how many garden stories I’ve heard that have started with “My grandma has a garden…”)   Some of them don’t have a yard at home, so they want a chance to work in the soil at school.  Some of the sign up because their friends are signing up, or their friends were in the garden last year and drew them in this year.  Some of them got hooked on gardening during activities I did with their class.   I had one boy at the new garden tell me a couple of weeks ago about how he used to garden with his dad back home in Syria and was excited to have the opportunity to garden here now.  He asked if we could grow some of the same things that he used to grow in Syria, which led to a good discussion about why certain things that grow there might be hard to grow here.  But we also agreed that next winter, when we’re planning what to grow in next year’s garden, he could suggest some plants to grow and we’d see what we can do.

I found Garden Club a bit hectic last year, so this year I tried something new with the Spiderweb Garden Club.  During our first meeting, each student made a garden journal.  They got to decorate the cover with anything garden-related that they wanted.  Now, every week when they come into the garden, they check their name on the attendance list and then find their journals.  What they do in the garden journals is up to them, but I’ve suggested things like writing the date, looking for things that have changed since last week and drawing or writing about them, writing/drawing about the weather…  It’s worked really well.  First of all, it gets them focused into garden-mode.  Also, since the kids don’t all arrive from lunch at the exact same time, it gives the early birds something to do while we wait for everyone to get there.  Some of the kids love taking time to draw or write in their journals, while others are done relatively quickly.  That makes for a good way to divide the kids into groups for the different tasks for the day – the ones who are done first get assigned to garden task, and then as they finish with their journals, they get into groups for the different tasks.

Another thing that I’ve found helpful in lessening the chaos is doing the same or similar activities for several weeks in a row (I need to keep reminding myself that repetition works well with kids!).  This way, the kids learn how to do the different tasks and they don’t need as much instruction and supervision.  Plus, I think they feel more of a sense of responsibility and of accomplishment if they’re given more independence in the garden tasks.  And, this way, if one of the groups didn’t get a chance to do one of the activities one week, they’ll have a chance to do it in the next week or two.  (This tends to be especially important with watering, which is an ever-popular garden task with kids!)  Besides watering, the other tasks we’ve been doing with the Garden Clubs have been weeding, seeding, some transplanting and compost sifting (only at the Spiderweb Garden, since we don’t yet have a compost system in the new garden).  Some kids gravitate towards one or two activities and want to do those for the whole time, but most of them are keen on rotating through two or three different activities.

I also have parents help with both of the Garden Clubs.  It’s nice to have parent and community involvement in the gardens, and it’s also really helpful to have parents helping especially when the kids are rotating through the different garden tasks.  We’ve been lucky to have a few parents who have been committed to coming every week – they get more comfortable with leading different garden tasks on their own, the kids get comfortable with the parents, and it makes for a really great community-building experience.

One of the most rewarding things with the Spiderweb Garden’s club this year has been to see kids returning who were in the club last year.  It’s super nice to have returning kids, not only because it’s rewarding to see them coming back and getting a chance to know them better, but also because they end up being the little experts who I can count on to help out the newer members.  Last week we needed to do some weeding in the garden, and one of the “garden club veteran” girls was super keen on doing this.  (It’s amazing how much kids love weeding!)  So after I quickly showed her which plants were weeds, she was able to show the newer kids how to weed (make sure you pull out the roots, make a pile of the weeds, take them to the compost…).  It was really great to see her taking the lead, and also gave me a chance to help other kids with other garden activities.

Happy growing!

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