The children of C.B. Smith Primary School know from experience that seeds are nature’s treasure trove — they planted those seeds, tended a garden, brought in the harvest and have eaten the fruits of their labor. Teachers have found gardens to be an educational horn of plenty, incorporating them into science, math, health and English lessons.
The children of C.B. Smith Primary School know from experience that seeds are nature’s treasure trove — they planted those seeds, tended a garden, brought in the harvest and have eaten the fruits of their labor.
“It’s very important to me,” said Dale Tarter, 12, a former C.B. Smith student who came back to visit the garden he helped plant when he was in third grade. “It helped train me to grow plants.
“I helped plant and came out to water the plants. It makes me feel really good to see the plants that were really little and now they’re huge with things growing on them. I learned about the balance of nutrition and how important it is to eat good.”
Master Gardener Beth Wegner has been teaching C.B. Smith students about the fruits of the earth for five years now — first with a butterfly garden at the school and then with a food garden a few years later.
“We share the gifts and the bounty of mother nature with our neighbors,” she said of some familiar and not-so-familiar vegetable plants growing in front of the school.
A community worker for the Family Nutrition Program at the University of Illinois Extension in Tazewell County, Wegner said she decided that incorporating the garden into that program would help students gain some insights into nutrition and get some hands-on experience in gardening. Her time in the garden is on a volunteer basis.
The program has worked so well that it will grow this year to include students at Edison Junior High School, where a nutrition and gardening program has been added to the school’s enrichment program. Eventually the gardens will stretch all the way around C.B. Smith and Edison, Wegner said. This fall, native prairie grasses will be planted at the east end of the grade school.
Teachers have found the gardens to be an educational horn of plenty, incorporating them into science, math, health and English lessons.
“Right now we are going into parts of the plants,” said second-grade teacher Kim Moore. “We will learn the parts of the plant, its life cycle and so on.
“Then we go from science to math — we measure the sunflowers’ circumference and diameter, estimations on the size of the plant and comparisons to the actual measurement, and then we place values by counting the seeds — putting them into groups of 10, groups of 100. Last year we even put together 3,000 seeds so the students could see the volume.”
One of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings was “Sunflowers,” Moore said, and students learn about him and then paint their own sunflowers. In English lessons, the students write what they think are facts and opinions about the sunflower, she said, and the children also use food from the garden as they learn about the food pyramid.
“I think this is a wonderful way to teach concepts and give the students real life experiences,” she said.
Wegner said the garden is unique in that seeds have been supplied by the Seed Savers Exchange — a nonprofit organization of gardeners who exchange rare seeds annually. The seeds have not been genetically altered.
Plants in the garden include the chocolate pepper plant, purple pod pole beans and the Mayflower bean, suspected to be one of the first beans brought over from England on the Mayflower.
The students learn how Native Americans shared their knowledge of the indigenous crops to help the settlers survive the winter.
The butterfly garden enables the children to study the life cycle of butterflies. Monarchs are plentiful there, Wegner said, and as they are now laying their eggs on the milkweed plants before migrating to warmer climates for the winter.
Linda Durbin, grandmother of 9-year-old C.B. Smith student Daniel Plante, said the program is a good one. Daniel helped plant the marigolds at the edges of the garden and said he is pleased with the outcome and loves the colors of the flowers.
“I think it’s good,” Durbin said. “It gets the children outdoors and teaches them how to grow things. They can see what they accomplished as the plants grow.”
Cindy Garmon, mother of second-grader Ty Garmon, 7, volunteered with her son’s class when they worked in the garden, planting and weeding.
“The kids dig it,” she said. “They really loved planting and digging in the dirt — you know boys love to dig in the dirt.
“And when the vegetables came on, we were able to come and get tomatoes. It gives them a hand in nature. They get to see it all grow and then they get to eat it. I think it’s great.”
Sharon Woods Harris can be reached at email@example.com.