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Opening Doors of Curiosity for Garden Education

As climate change becomes an imminent reality of our future, gardening contributes to healthy eating and exposure to the natural world. While record numbers of people began cultivating their own gardens during pandemic lockdowns, vulnerable communities do not have the same luxury. CommUniverCity saw this opportunity to promote healthy lifestyles while young students and families are learning from home. 

COVID restrictions proved to be more difficult to work around, thus, we were only able to provide lessons to one of multiple schools. Over the course of 4 Fridays, students at McKinley Elementary’s after-school program took part in activities such as drawing in nature journals and planting seeds. Matt Spadoni, the Growing Sustainably project coordinator, encouraged conversations about fun outdoor activities and local parks to visit. 

“Having a garden can protect us if there isn’t a lot of food because then we can eat our own”

– McKinley Elementary School student

In the first lesson, K-7th grade students were introduced to the word “sustainability” and learned the differences between fruits and vegetables. Students in the second lesson explored the climate of seasons and how it affects what we can grow in our gardens. Classrooms planted potato seeds and jotted away in their nature journals about season changes. In the third lesson, students dived into the concepts of composting and pollination, many of whom were unfamiliar with the term ‘biodegradable’. Children followed the lesson by planting lettuce seeds with Matt’s own compost and wildflower seeds to attract pollinators in the next spring. The final lesson taught about food cycles and how the flow of energy works in food chains from the sun to top predators. 

Through guided nature journaling, youth from disadvantaged communities get introduced to environmental concepts and foster curiosity for the outdoors at an early age. Additionally, gardening provides an opportunity to build strong connections within the community and outside of the traditional classroom setting. Our goals for future garden education is to eventually engage in more hands-on activities to further deepen students’ environmental literacy. 

“I enjoyed how I got to learn on how to know what is a vegetable based on if it has seeds or not and same with fruits”

– McKinley Elementary School student

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