Thursday, 7 April 2016

To The Garden!

It's one thing to what to have students outdoors and learning about the world around them in a garden setting. It's quite another thing to have everything organised to ensure things run smoothly.

With Earth Day just a couple of weeks away it might be time to reflect on how you could incorporate some garden/plant life activities into your classroom or homeschool program.

Here are a few thoughts about the garden types I've seen and worked with and how to organise a little garden tote bag with everything you need in it!


Most schools I have worked at have had one of two types of garden areas:

* School Garden
This is usually a large area which has been divided by paths and each class has a section/plot to grow and cultivate plants in. It's a fantastic idea but what I have observed with this type of garden is that a small school will do it so much better than a larger one. Why? In a small school you may have 1-4 classes at the most. In a large school you have anywhere from 15-30 classes. Now you would think with the higher number of classes it would equal a better outcome for the garden...sadly I am yet to see that. More often than not the larger school gardens are poorly planned, allocated, and no direction given as what to do (yes, teachers do sometimes need to be told as you don't want to plant a garden of flowers only to find the school wanted you to do vegetables, or to find that your plants come into conflict with the class next door's plot.

Some schools are lucky enough to have funding for a specialist teacher (NIT) or general employee (someone with the knowledge and skill needed but are not a teacher). But again, in a larger school that is one person who is greatly outnumbered by classes, students and limited by time and working hours.

Usually the problem is that teachers and students begin the process enthusiastically...and then it peters out as the school year wears on. School gardens usually look awesome for a couple of years (for those that are successful) before the same decline begins. Of course, there are always those gem schools who manage to keep it going and gorgeous - I just haven't witnessed it yet - but I'm sure they do exist!

Garden boxes made from old apple crates.
You can see they are elevated from the ground
and can easily be moved by a forklift.
Photo from Re-Nest. Click picture for original article.
* Garden Boxes
These types of gardens are usually made from planter boxes or old fruit freight wooden crates. The can be moved around a school with the use of a forklift. These are a lot more successful than larger gardens in terms of producing something but the downside is that one 2 x 2m box is not going to be used all at the same time by a class - there just isn't the room.

If you are a homeschooler parent - these are awesome. I prefer them to a garden as it saves the back a little with bending and weeding etc. however, if you need to get in and dig - that can be a problem.

Whichever garden you have please do make the most of it. Learning experiences outside the the four walls of a classroom are very important for a child's growth and development - especially life skills.

Now, onto the point of this post - organising the garden equipment in a garden tote bag.

Garden Equipment
A key issues that seems universal to schools is a lack of equipment. If I have 26 students in the garden - I want each and every one of them working and learning - no bystanders! Be warned, I put these kits together out of my own pocket. It was great to claim on tax at the end of the financial year but I still foot the bill! The key - grab what's on discount and work with it.


Mini-equipment
The need for big spades and wheelbarrows has not yet been a need for my class where I've worked. There is however a need for equipment to turn over soil, dig holes, and dig out those annoying, reoccurring nuisances that make us mad - weeds.

I found these sets at my local Bunnings store. I got the whole kit for about $8 - which I personally thought was a bargain. They were super-easy to engrave with my initials as well (you can grab a handy engraver at Bunnings too!)


 

Gloves
I went to the local Cheap as Chips to grab some gloves. They are cheap, smaller in size (though I got a couple of larger ones there as well), and can be washed. You'll likely only get 1-2 years out of them if your class take good care of them but it makes for a good investment.





Watering Cans
These were about $4 each from Bunnings - I got them in pink, blue, and green. They are made of metal and have a moveable handle (so handy!). These ones are only about 4L but it is enough for the purposes of the garden beds and boxes my classes have maintained.



Storage Bags
I actually purchased these first. When I saw them in Kmart on discount for $5 I purchased all that was left - and then had to work out how to use them!

They are actually scrapbooking totes but are so handy with the larger space in the middle (where I stored the gloves), big pockets on either side (for the equipment), and pockets to store any seeds, garden ties, etc. you need to take with you. After 5 years I still have the original ones I bought - and I think they still look pretty good!

It's so much easier to grab the garden totes and watering cans knowing everything is in it rather than big plastic tubs that are heavy and/or awkward to carry and end up broken and dirty. 
 
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