Apples, Apples, Apples

The curriculum of a 2nd grade class seems to be perfectly geared towards learning in a garden setting.  So far they have studied seasons, consumers and producers, rocks & soil, and are now moving on to natural resources.  When learning about seasons the students created posters with cut out photographs and magazine clippings to demonstrate different associations with their chosen time of year.  A drawing of an apple tree was the center piece of each poster – In Winter the apple tree was bare of leaves and fruit, in Spring the apple tree was covered in tiny blossoms, in Summer tiny fruits were beginning to be visible, and in Fall a basket full of apples sat beside a tree covered in delicious ripe fruit.  What better way to reinforce the idea that certain crops have specific growing seasons,  to begin the discussion on consumer choices, and to demonstrate the necessity for soil as a natural resource than to talk about and EAT apples.

Off I went to Whole Foods.  Oh Whole Foods!  What a variety of apples you have!  Braeburn, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Pink Lady!  My second graders couldn’t have imagined the variety of apples sitting before them.  We talked about how many varieties of apples exist – “Take a guess”, I asked.  “5”… “14”… “100!” There are 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States.  The kids looked shocked.  “How many do you think they usually offer at the grocery store?”  Four.

I led the students through the “Apple as the World” lesson.  I have to admit this was a little difficult for them to comprehend, fractions and water covering the earth, but once you come down to that tiny sliver of apple representing “tillable earth” it became clear that this soil is something we need to protect.  We talked about making educated consumer choices and where they might find a larger variety of apples.  And then we began the tasting.  I encouraged them to use their senses as they took each bite and think of adjectives to describe what they saw and tasted.  “What would you name this apple?”  “Yummy in my Tummy Apple”  “Crunchy Cookie Apple”.  They tasted a few varieties and always asked for more.  I had as much fun (if not more) tasting the apples as they did.  I gotta admit the lesson was a huge success, but I can’t take all the credit.  I mean, what child doesn’t like apples?  I haven’t met one yet.



Rainbow Chips

One of the very first lessons I lead with almost every grade level is a back-pocket activity I learned from the Life Lab Science Program on the UCSC Campus known as “Rainbow Chips”.  The lesson begins with a story (usually suitable to younger age groups…)…..

” A long time ago in a place not too far from here there was a big storm…  Huge grey clouds rushed in over the mountains and covered the land in darkness… all of the colors were sucked up into the clouds and the whole land turned into different shades of grey… The clouds swelled bigger, and became so full that they looked as if they would burst! Which is exactly what they did, the clouds burst open and it began to rain harder than it had ever rained before.  As it rained the clouds began to part and the sun started to peak through.  And you know what happens when it rains and is sunny at the same time…. (kids: a Rainbow!!) That’s right- the biggest Rainbow anyone had ever seen.  It stretched across the sky and as it stretched and stretched the colors got longer and tighter until SMASH – the rainbow cracked and all of the pieces fell down to the ground!  I was lucky enough to pick up some of the pieces and I brought them here for you all today”

The amazing “Rainbow Chips” are paint chips that you can get for free from any hardware store and the students begin their search around the garden- trying to match the colors they find in nature as perfectly as possible.  If the students find a color on a plant that has 10 or more of the same thing (leaves, flowers, etc…) or if it is already off the plant (fallen tomatoes, pumpkins, etc…) they can bring their item with them and create a rainbow as a class.

I have done this activity with preschool and I have done this activity with fourth grade but the kindergarten class I recently had in the garden amazed me with their color-matching abilities!  It was as if the paint chips from Ace Hardware had been created by taking pictures of our garden!

This lesson is a great way to introduce children to the garden and to allow them to explore freely.  I have had students find the most vibrant yellow on a crab spider, or the stripes of a monarch caterpillar.  Hundreds of Harding Students have explored the garden using their eyesight and the beautiful colors found everywhere in nature!

A great book to introduce this lesson (better for older children than the rainbow chips story) is “Living Color” by Steve Jenkins.

Even on Miss Emma's sweater!

The Path of the Tomato

“Harding’s 2nd graders have the best Friday ever,”  their teachers love to tell me.  This is because each of the three classes rotates through 30 minute visits at the library, music, and the garden.  They get to check out new picture books, play the tambourine and hopefully get their hands a little dirty.

Back in December all of the 2nd grade classes had begun to learn about producers and consumers.  They would come to the garden and tell me that they knew that paper came from trees and that they were consumers at the grocery store.

On their Friday garden visit the 2nd graders traced the path of the tomato, from seed to plate, from farmer to trucker to grocery store attendant.  After following the tomato on its rather lengthy journey a group of students stood up in front of their classmates, donned the clothes of the various people involved in the tomatoes adventure and passed one of our last fresh Roma tomatoes down the production line.  Image



“Emma, I’m going to come to the garden every day.”

It was Santos.  One of my garden regulars.  He had come to the garden immediately after finishing his lunch to inform me of this.

“That’s awesome!” I replied.  Perhaps not realizing the gravity of what he was saying.

“Every day” He repeated.  “My friends tell me they want me to play with them but I come here instead.”

“Well, Santos, I love it when you come to the garden, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to.”

“But I like being in the garden” He stated.

“I like being in the garden too.”

Santos had been coming to the garden almost everyday before his declaration of complete commitment.  But now it was official, and he reminded me whenever he got the chance.  It is for kids like Santos that I really do love being in the garden everyday.  It may be an off morning, maybe I didn’t drink enough coffee, or I had a rough night’s sleep, maybe I had no idea what I was going to do with the kids once I got there, but when Santos comes running in –

“Emma! Emma!  Can I get a bug box? Can we do a bug race? Can I harvest a carrot? Can I use a tool?”

– How can I help but be as excited as he is?

There have been times when only a handful of kids come into the garden for recess or lunch, the activities I planned for my large groups of regulars must be put off for another time.  Sometimes Santos will inform me, “Not that many people came to the garden this week”  And sometimes he’s right.   But then, one day later, 5 new faces will walk through the gate, and after eating a flower that tastes like broccoli, or catching the biggest pincher bug, it seems they are destined to join my regular crew as well.

And so, on Thursday, as we were gathering fresh leaves of lettuce to use as “tortillas” for our carrot and viola tacos, Santos says to me, a pinch of nervousness in his voice,

“Emma I think I’m going to go play with my friends.”

He had made his own veggie taco the day before, and I think he was getting antsy.

“Of course! Have fun!”

I reply with enthusiasm, encouraging him to go play a game of basketball.  It is easy to watch him go, because I know something much more important – He will definitely be back.

Santos holding our freshly harvested cauliflower!

Garden highlights: cauliflower & violas in the cafeteria!


a colorful salad for the kids to enjoy

violas ready to be delivered to the caf

Exploring Our 5 Senses!

Lunch & recess are generally a time when kids want to run around, play sports, swing , etc… So I was somewhat hesitant about trying to lead a lesson with the kids at Harding during this time.  We usually do less structured activities, digging up beds, harvesting lettuce, planting seeds, but I had decided that the garden is a place for exploration, a place where children can discover bugs, plants, and natural interactions that they have never seen before.  In order to be expert explorers I wanted the kids to develop their 5 senses.  I was somewhat shocked to discover that most of the 1st-3rd graders could not name their 5 senses.  With a little prompting, however, they began to call them out and our activity began.  I should mention that the Harding lunch schedule is somewhat confusing, as the first half of kids get about 10 minutes of play time before they line-up for lunch, where as the other half eats first and plays after.
The first group of kids came running into the garden, and following the tradition I am trying to create I had us all hold hands to form a circle.  I explained that we would be exploring our 5 senses so that we could be expert garden explorers.  Following a lesson I had found in “Meadow to Milkshake” we began to explore each sense individually.
Smelling: I asked each child to close their eyes and to breath in deeply through their nose.  I asked them to try and distinguish different smells, did they smell something yucky?  Did they smell something yummy?  I then allowed them to walk around the garden to find different smells.  Naturally many of them gravitated to the herb bed, holding leaves of chocolate mint to their noses and taking big whiffs.  Some found their way to our makeshift compost pile.  When I discussed that smells can bring back vivid memories one girl chimed in that the tomato plant smelled like her grandmothers house.  We then related the smells to other animals, What animals use their noses? Dogs! What might they be using their noses for? To find food!  -then the whistle was blown, my entire group of children was running off to the lunch line.  “Can we bring our lunch in the garden?” To which I of course replied, yes!
Once they were all sitting with their lunches around the table I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to skip a couple senses and jump to Taste.  I asked them to try closing their eyes while they ate their food.  Or try plugging their nose.  Smell and Taste are related, when you can’t smell your food, does it change how it tastes?  Try moving the food around in your mouth versus letting the flavors sit on your tongue.  Finally, once they were finishing their lunches I asked them to find something in the garden to taste, maybe something they had never tried before, a mint leaf? A cherry tomato?
We came back to the circle and began discussing Seeing.  I asked them to find 3 different shades of green? Using one eye or the other, was one eye better?  I then told them they could choose to be an ant or a hawk.  If they chose to be an ant they would get low to the ground and begin to see the world through an ant’s perspective, how large a blade of grass looks or another bug.  As a hawk they could stand on the table bench and see how far the could see.  I explained that hawk’s have much better eyesight than humans which is how they can see the ground from way up in the sky.  We then all pretended to be owls, keeping our eyes forward and moving only our heads to see, which did they prefer?
I then led them in an activity I learned at LifeLab called the “Pencil Game” .  I explain to the students that I will be hiding a pencil somewhere very close in the garden.  They must use their Seeing Sense to find it.  I repeat that I will not be hiding the pencil farther than 10 ft away.  I also emphasize that when they find the pencil, they are not to call out where it is, but instead to put their fingers on their nose and rejoin the circle.  When their eyes are closed, I place the pencil behind my ear and tell them to go find it.  Of course they begin to check the far far corners of the garden, but slowly one or two students will find it and return to the circle with their hands on their nose.  When enough time has passed I ask them all to return and I take it out from behind my ear.  They failed to notice the little detail that the pencil was right in front of them.  Of course all of the students want to play the game again, which is impossible as they know where the pencil is

For hearing I had them close their eyes again, listen closely and try to distinguish 3 different sounds.  This was INCREDIBLY difficult as we are in the middle of a playground full of screaming children.  What sounds do you hear? Kids. Oh, of course.  I then stood 10 ft away from the kids and told them that I was going to count to 10, when they heard the number 5 they were to cup their hands behind their ears.  This has always been one of my favorite things to do and it was no surprise that the kids loved it.  I had them break up in pairs and try talking to each other at various distances using the “deer ears”.   When leading this lesson with the 4th-6th graders my variation on the activity was to add in the predator prey game.  A student stands in the center of a circle, blindfolded, and when I tap the shoulder of the students surrounding him they can begin to creep in to attack their prey.  If the student hears his attacker he turns and points. His predator must then return to the circle and the game continues.  This game was a HUGE success.
We ended the activity with Touching.  I asked the students to find the softest plant in the garden, the roughest plant, a waxy plant, a prickly plant (our eggplant are perfect for that… but can be pretty painful too!) I asked them to try using different parts of their body to touch things, their elbow, their cheek? Which is most sensitive?
Time seems to fly by and lunch is over, they are going to line-up.  On Fridays I give out small envelopes with seeds to students who can answer my questions correctly.  When I ask who can tell me the 5 senses all hands go up 🙂
Other fun moments at Harding:Salad Party! Sweet Lettuce, Mesclun, violas, and cherry tomatoes!

Digging out the edge beds for climbing vines and perennial flowers. ( I honestly could not have done it without them!)

Bummer moment at Harding 😦 :Vandalism in the garden. smashed pumpkin and watermelon (the one and only… that the kids never got to taste) and big foot prints on our lettuce and beet sprouts.