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Archive for Monday, May 24, 2010

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Blossoming education: KU’s Hilltop program to expand gardening, related curricula

Taj Polonchek, 5, looks for guidance for weeding from teacher Julie McEathron at Hilltop Child Development Center’s Meadowlark Classroom’s garden. McEathron has incorporated gardening into the classroom for three years, and soon the entire school will have a new garden for its projects.

Taj Polonchek, 5, looks for guidance for weeding from teacher Julie McEathron at Hilltop Child Development Center’s Meadowlark Classroom’s garden. McEathron has incorporated gardening into the classroom for three years, and soon the entire school will have a new garden for its projects.

May 24, 2010

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Emma Liu, left, and Catherine Zhao, both 5, prepare to feed worms that are breaking down compost at the Meadowlark Classroom at Hilltop.

Emma Liu, left, and Catherine Zhao, both 5, prepare to feed worms that are breaking down compost at the Meadowlark Classroom at Hilltop.

Emma Liu, 5, and Wajd Alayafi, 5, play near a pair of cherry trees at Hilltop Child Development Center. The center is incorporating gardening in its curriculum.

Emma Liu, 5, and Wajd Alayafi, 5, play near a pair of cherry trees at Hilltop Child Development Center. The center is incorporating gardening in its curriculum.

Hilltop Child Development Center students, from left, Shivani Sharma, 4; Mikaiah Barber, 4; and Luke Polonchek, 5, rake a garden bed in May 2010 to prepare it for planting.

Hilltop Child Development Center students, from left, Shivani Sharma, 4; Mikaiah Barber, 4; and Luke Polonchek, 5, rake a garden bed in May 2010 to prepare it for planting.

Arran Kennedy-Orive, 5, moves dirt from a compost pile to a garden bed in May 2010 at Hilltop Child Development Center.

Arran Kennedy-Orive, 5, moves dirt from a compost pile to a garden bed in May 2010 at Hilltop Child Development Center.

Green strawberries are starting to ripen at the Meadowlark Classroom garden. The classroom also has     potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables growing.

Green strawberries are starting to ripen at the Meadowlark Classroom garden. The classroom also has potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables growing.

These are the reasons why gardening with preschoolers is adorable.

Vignette 1: Taj Polonchek, 5, sits on the sidewalk near a bed of green plants barely poking out of the ground. Even a seasoned gardener might wonder which is a weed and which is a vegetable plant.

Taj, with great confidence, pulls a tomato plant out of the dirt. He holds it up to his teacher.

“Can I pick this one?” he says.

Vignette 2: A handful of students are peering into a large Styrofoam container filled with dirt, decomposing food and more than 2,000 worms. This eventually will become compost for the garden.

Tyler Spears, also 5, grabs a handful and, before anyone can notice, puts it toward his mouth.

“I just kissed a worm!” he exclaims.

His teacher, Julie McEathron, laughs.

“This,” she says, “is the best job in the world.”

•••

McEathron, one of two teachers in the Meadowlark Classroom at Hilltop Child Development Center on the Kansas University campus, helped establish the garden outside the school three years ago.

The school’s teachers have found gardening can be helpful in teaching a variety of subjects:

  • Science, in how plants grow.
  • Math, with the potential to graph the growth of plants.
  • Art, with students completing pictures based on the garden.
  • Language, with students learning the names of plants.
  • Social studies, in comparing the diversity in plants with the diversity in people.
  • Literature and technology, with students making videos of the garden project.

And that’s why the 3-year-old project, which helped earn McEathron a national teaching award, is expanding to the entire school this month.

Soon, students in all 17 of Hilltop’s classrooms will have access to a new garden near the school’s playground. The approximately 1,300-square-foot-space, with raised beds, will highlight a renewed focus on sustainable and Earth-friendly activities at the preschool.

“You can incorporate the garden almost across the entire curriculum,” says Pat Pisani, Hilltop’s director.

•••

The large garden, which is being cultivated this month, has been a part of Hilltop’s goals since the beginning.

The school’s classrooms have Kansas-themed names, native products were incorporated into construction, and some of the aquarium fish are native to the state.

The funds for the garden project were provided by money left over from a recent expansion project, in addition to some grant money.

Mike Pisani, the director’s son and a teacher at the school, is helping to lead the expanded green effort. He’ll teach a full-day preschool class over the summer, when many of the new projects will take off.

In addition to the garden, plans call for a small greenhouse (constructed from parts of two former sheds that were demolished), a new recycling effort and a lesson on solar panels, with an attempt of turning a gas-powered go-kart into a solar-powered one. Also, students will begin selling vegetables from the garden at a small, on-site farmers’ market for parents who come to the school, to help raise money for next year’s garden.

Despite stereotypes that children want to sit and play video games, Mike Pisani says many love to be outdoors.

“They love digging in the dirt,” he says.

But in his classroom, digging in the dirt also leads to more “Hilltop Cash,” which earns students certain privileges such as spending more time at the computer.

“The ones who really like being outside — there’s a lot of them,” he says. “Sometimes it takes a little salesmanship to get them outside.”

•••

That hasn’t been much a problem in McEathron’s classroom, which has adopted the green philosophy.

“It’s kind of natural for them,” she says.

Her class’ garden includes strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes, among other plants. It also includes a pair of cherry trees that should be producing well by next year. In an unscripted moment of lesson planning, there is a pair of robins that has made a nest near one of the garden beds.

As students are playing with rakes, moving dirt from a compost pile via small toy dump trucks and feeding worms with eggshells — there’s an “ick factor” there — McEathron says students are learning without even realizing it.

“It’s all in the guise of play,” she says. “But we’re learning.”

Comments

MacHeath 3 years, 10 months ago

I remember sitting smack dab in the middle of a mud puddle and thinking this was the best place in the world... until Mom had a fit. Ahh, the good old days!

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9070811 3 years, 10 months ago

I love Hilltop! I went to Hilltop many many years ago...when it was housed in the old building behind the Religious Ed. building. Hilltop is always on top of projects like this. They are full of wonderful teachers.

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