The vibrant Prep space is very relevant to the IB Primary Years Programme’s emphasis on understanding where food originates.
At least once every growing-season cycle, PYP Coordinator Dianne Jojic works with each class in the garden, tying her lessons to the students’ units of inquiry.
"It’s so valuable for them to have a hands-on understanding of the land and to see it at various times in its seasonal life cycle," says Monika Kastelic, Prep arts coordinator, who worked as an organic farmer prior to her teaching career.
For students who are eager to learn more about the garden and growing their own food, there are co-curricular garden clubs. This spring, Kastelic and Jojic are leading clubs for both Year 3 and Year 4 students one afternoon each week for eight weeks.
"It’s an important opportunity for students to build empathy at an age when they’re so curious and excited," says Kastelic. “They get a chance to channel their curiosity and learn to do gardening tasks in a respectful way.”
Kastelic and Jojic run the clubs using an age-appropriate, stations approach so the students can participate in two or three different activities at each session. There is usually an arts-based activity, such as making dyes from plants or doing observational drawings. The youngsters have a chance to feed the soil and work with the worm compost bins and to seed the soil. Depending on their fine motor skills, they plant tiny seeds or larger ones, building spatial awareness as they space the seeds apart. They also undertake maintenance activities such as weeding and watering.
"On the first day of the clubs, I ask the students what they’d like to eat," says Kastelic. "We work with BUFCO, a backyard gardening company, to create a growing plan that allows for crop rotation. We grow a variety of vegetables, such as Swiss chard, tomatoes, celery, carrots and beets, as well as those with intense flavours, such as chives, rhubarb and sorrel. It’s great to see the students taking positive risks by trying new foods and flavours."
As the weeks progress, the boys have an opportunity to watch the plants grow and they learn to identify them, too. In addition to food items, there are edible flowers, such as calendula and nasturtiums, and a pollinator patch to attract bees with lavender, sage, flowers, strawberries and milkweed. At the end of each session (spring and fall), the clubs have a celebration to taste what they’ve grown and share it with the community.
“We hope that being involved with a garden leads to the students being citizens who consider the environment in their future decisions and understand that all of these living things exist,” says Kastelic.