Let the Garden Do the Heavy Lifting

Lessons from Bookworm Gardens, by WSGI's Beth Hanna

On a beautiful September morning, I walked through the gate at Bookworm Gardens and found myself in a world fit only for a story book.  Winding pathways beckoned.  Gardens of all colors, shapes, and sizes intrigued.  And leading me through it all was Education Director, Beth Carreno – just as dynamic and engaging as the Gardens themselves.

Only two acres, Bookworm Gardens is an endless world of imagination, wonder, and fun.  Each curve in the path brings visitors to a new world to explore.  From the elephant ear plants in the Horton Hatches an Egg area, to the refreshing shelter of Charlotte’s Web barn, there is constant delight.  One can’t help but think, if only all gardens were so intriguing! 
While there is no replicating Bookworm Gardens, there is certainly room to be inspired by it.  Bookworm Gardens teaches us that everyone deserves a place where learning and fun are celebrated in equal measure, where books and nature become one in the same, and where the young and the young at heart find pleasure in all of it.  Read on for five lessons that Bookworm Gardens’ Beth Carreno offer those interested in growing youth gardens.
  1. Gardens as living laboratories:  Like a laboratory, Bookworm Gardens is designed for observation and hands-on interactions: smaller paths protrude from main walkways to offer opportunities for close-up inspection without disrupting traffic flow; gathering areas, like The Magic Tree House, offer ample space for discussing discoveries made.  Thoughtful design of youth gardens keep kids safe, engaged, and learning.   
  1. Science behind the silly: Every garden, activity, and lesson presented at Bookworm Gardens, no matter how silly it may appear, serves a purpose.  Standing under a tree bedecked with plastic eggs, pizza, doughnuts, and more in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs area, Beth explains.  “There is always science behind the silly.  We can bring kids here and have them dream about which foods they would like to see falling from the sky.  But look around.  We’re also surrounded by a rain garden.  We are equally able to start a discussion about types of precipitation or about strategies for conserving water.”  Youth gardens set the scene for innumerable scientific discussions.  Prepare kids for these discussions with a little whimsy to increase their engagement.
  1. Offer choices: Children relish the opportunity to able to partake in free, creative, and natural play in the Little House in the Big Woods area.  They explore the covered wagon and wooden cabin, build fairy houses, or gather sticks.  Incorporate an area of your youth garden for free play.  A place to collect, sort, and explore sticks, rocks, and soil allows students to independently interact with the natural world. 
  1. Identify roles to increase investment: Students participating in programming at Bookworm Gardens begin the day with chores.  During this time, children can be seen feeding the fish, harvesting ripe produce, and tending to the worms.  How does this practice translate to a classroom or schoolyard? Clearly defined garden responsibilities build a sense of ownership that increases investment in the garden’s success.  “Give all of the students roles, so that is the school’s garden instead of a school garden.  Kindergarten can be harvesters or fifth grade the weed patrol.  Whatever makes sense to your school,” Beth suggests.    
  1. Feast!: Children able to grow, tend, and harvest fresh produce are more likely to eat it.  Because of the large number of students it serves, Bookworm Gardens recommends plants for learning and plants for eating.  A carrot might be able to offer more educational value if its roots stay underground in the viewable Tops and Bottoms garden.  High production plants however, like cherry tomatoes, beans, and peas make for great snack options that feed a crowd! 
How do you bring the magic of learning and fun to your schoolyard, backyard, or play yard?  Share your story with the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative by visiting wischoolgardens.org or email us directly at wsgi@communitygroundworks.org.  
Scenes from Bookworm Gardens
School Garden Video Project:
Grow Your Brain, Grow Your Roots

This video is a compilation of interviews and garden moments from State Road Elementary, Hamilton Elementary, and SOTA 1 schools in LaCrosse, WI. The video itself tells an incredible story about the power of school gardens in LaCrosse.

This is a wonderful example of the type of videos WSGI is looking to create through its School Garden Video Project. We are looking for short clips from school gardens across the state, that we will assemble into a video collage that shows the positive impacts of garden-based education. 

We have received several video clips so far, but we are looking for more! Check out our School Garden Video Project guide for details on how to participate!

Books: Growing Winter Gardens of the Mind

Book nooks and garden dreaming, by WSGI's Jennica Skoug

I don't always like this time of year.

Without a greenhouse on hand, November means the end of gardening season, and the long wait for spring. But there is one thing I always look forward to: a warm mug of tea in one hand, and a fat book in the other. 

In addition to crafting WSGI communications, I also manage a program at Community GroundWorks called the Goodman Youth Farm, where we introduce kids to
growing and cooking good food, like so many school gardens. 

The Youth Farm closes down for the season in mid-October. While I enjoy the winter respite, I often wish I had the chance to share my love of cozy winter book nooks with the students who pepper the farm with energy in spring and fall. I especially wish it because I would love the excuse to pour over the dozens of garden-themed stories and picture books floating around in school libraries. I'd also love to get into a hearty discussion over The Omnivore's Dilemma with a class of high schoolers, or teach middle schoolers to read a seed catalogue. 

Teachers, the winter is long and cold, but you can see, perhaps, why I envy you some days. You help students garden in their minds all year long. 

Look to the Resources & Events section for a collection of garden-themed books that, I hope, will feed the curiosity and imagination generated in your school garden. Of course, reading also generates it's own curiosity - one that I hope has your students itching to explore the outdoors, perhaps with a book tucked carefully in their back pocket. 

Resources & Events

Growing Good Kids Book Awards: The Junior Master Gardener Program and American Horticultural Society honor engaging, inspiring works of plant, gardens, and ecology-themed children's literature. You'll find a large collection of books on their website, complete with age level, cover photos, and descriptions.
Omnivore's Dilemma Teacher's Guide:
This guide contains chapter summaries and discussion questions with teachers in mind. Best suited for grades 9-12. 
Blooming with Books: This Story Sampler for preschool and kindergarten children contains five garden-related books, along with activities, questions, and ways to involve family and community in the stories. 
Michigan Team Nutrition Booklist:
The Updated Michigan Team Nutrition Booklist contains the annotations for over 400 books about food, nutrition, healthy eating, and physical activity. Best suited for children  in grades K-2. 
Kids & Gardens LIBGuide:
Assembled by a group of librarians (yes, that lady holding a chicken is one of them!), this site contains garden-themed books and other resources for both teachers and students of the school garden!
Garden Bibliography: A librarian's list of garden-themed books for children in grades PreK-5. Includes author, description and grade level for each book.  Developed by Jean Dunn, former librarian at Lapham Elementary. This is an extensive list!
Wisconsin Farm to School Summit: 
Registration is open! This January 29 summit is followed by the Wisconsin Local Food Summit on January 30-31. Discounts available if you attend both summits. WSGI's Beth Hanna and Jennica Skoug will both present!

WI School Gardens Map - updated:
WSGI's map just got a makeover! Each school on our map now has a photo, and we'd love to add more. Send us links to school garden photos on your school's website, facebook page, or blog, and we will add them to the map! Not on the map? Add your school here. 

School Garden Success Stories

The Gardening Librarian
Once upon a time, a fifth grade student walked into Sue Dauberman’s library at Frank Allis Elementary and started counting. “Miss Sue,” she said, “you have over fifty plants in this library. Can I have one?”
“I had so many plants in that library,” Sue said, remembering. “It was a standing joke: I either had a greenhouse with books in it, or a library with too many plants.” She laughed. “But people felt good in there. The plants, they give off water, oxygen, beauty…even the teachers would notice it, that the plants had a calming effect on their students.”
After thirty-two years as a school librarian, Sue retired to focus on the passion that was always entwined within her world of books: gardening. Nearly every day, from April through November, Sue is busy planting, harvesting, and watering her community garden plot by hand. Each summer, she brings zucchini cookies for the kids who visit the garden.
Sue's favorite gardening book                 

Sue knows that gardening and reading go hand in hand. As a little girl, she would follow her grandmother into the flower garden; by the first grade, she stood out as the only student who could name each flower she encountered.  Those names translated easily to words on pages.
“Get them into it early, as preschoolers even,” she said. “Smelling, touching, all the senses – the more you’ve experienced something, the more you’re able to read about it.”

While at Allis, Sue helped students gain experience with plants: she made compostable newspaper pots with fifth graders, read aloud from garden-themed books, and filled teachers’ windows with her geraniums in winter. The school garden at Allis was just getting started as Sue was retiring.
“You know, I wish I was in school now,” she said, “because they’re doing so much more with gardening, the philosophies have really changed.”
Sue experienced the philosophy behind garden-based education long before it became well known among schools.  While growing up on a farm in the early 1950’s, she started reading Organic Gardening Magazine, and she was hooked.
“My parents hated gardening, actually, but from the magazine – it just all made sense to me. I read about composting, and I started a compost pile. I had a huge garden on our property from the time I was ten years old.”
For Sue, those early experiences led to a lifetime of plants and books – passions she passed on to her students. And, it seems, they stuck. The fifth grade girl who counted the plants in the Allis library came back to visit as a college student. She still had the plant that Sue had given her almost a decade earlier. 

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                                                                                                              For those new to WSGI, we couldn't leave out these amazing resources. "Got Dirt?" will walk you through starting a school garden, while "Got Veggies?" will help you implement a garden-based nutrition curriculum.  "Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening" is an online training that will help you establish and utilize a school garden.  You can watch the entire training or select specific chapters.

Find them all here.

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