Roanoke students at Grandin Court Elementary had the opportunity to get their hands dirty gardening this spring as founding members of the school’s Garden Club.
Started as an outreach initiative of the local non-profit Western Virginia Land Trust (WVLT), the Garden Club was formed to teach young children basic gardening skills and to help better connect them to the environment. WVLT Project Manager Diana Hackenburg worked closely with the school to design a program that would complement the curriculum, beautify the school grounds, and hopefully produce a bountiful harvest of vegetables this growing season.
Outdoor activities, like gardening, have recently been touted as a way for children to gain valuable skills like cooperation, reduce stress, increase physical activity and even lessen misbehavior (for more information, check out Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods”).
“We see Garden Club filling an integral role in the introduction of young students to the environment around them,” Diana Hackenburg noted. “I tend to agree with Thomas Berry when he states that ‘teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.”
Due to its initial popularity with students, enrollment for the club was limited to 26 students ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade. Garden Club met once a week after school and each meeting started with an informative lesson on a plant-related topic. The students learned all about weeds, soils, how plants grow, and general safety tips to follow while working outside with tools. They had opportunities to taste basil, identify plant parts we eat, and experience how ‘milkweed’ gets its name. Additionally, each student planted their own bean or pea sprout to care for at home and created personalized watering jugs made from old milk gallons.
On the playground, students filled four raised beds with a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. All of the plants, seeds, and soil were generously donated by businesses including Mulch-N-More, Northwest True Value Hardware, Scotts Miracle Gro, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Townside Gardens. Support was also given by several local individuals and parent volunteers who helped supervise the children during meetings.
With spring winding down and summer fast approaching, Garden Club has officially ended for the school year. However, students were encouraged to continue visiting and caring for the plants with their families over the summer months. They were even encouraged to harvest any produce that becomes available later in the season.
“Our hope is to continue the Garden Club again next year at Grandin Court and potentially expand the program to other area schools,” voiced WVLT Executive Director David Perry. “As part of our mission, we want to encourage respect for the environment and Garden Club serves as the spark to a lifelong passion for nature.”
At the Garden Club’s last meeting, students were asked to write down one thing they learned or enjoyed about Garden Club. While most students mentioned either liking “gardening” or “planting”, one student responded simply “I like to let things grow.” The Garden Club did indeed grow this year both in terms of actual plants and as an educational experience for our community’s budding young gardeners.