The ever evolving, yet constant presence of the garden at the Infant House is something I look forward to every year. I follow a similar pattern for how I approach introducing and including the children in the inception, tending and harvesting. I like to use the garden as a focal point outside because the opportunities for hands on ways to interact with life are seemingly endless. Here are a few things the children are most interested in this year.
Our investigations almost always focus on the cycles of life. This begins when we plant seeds in the garden, but I also enjoy having other ways to invite children to watch how a seed changes. We also have plants that live in our classroom which we take care of and watch as they change. Every day we go outside and tour the yard. In the spring the seeds began to slowly make their ways from the soil. A bending stem pushing up the first leaves. The children are astounded and excited as they grow bigger and bigger. Then the flowers open in many different colors. We practice touching the leaves gently and carefully. When the flowers fall, we are reminded of the seeds we planted months ago. I tell the story of the cycle of life in the garden: We planted a seed, it grew from the ground, it became a plant, then there were flowers and the flowers become new seeds! Some seeds we eat: beans, strawberries, raspberries, peas, squash. Some we allow to grow old and harvest so that we can plant again next year.
During our observations of the garden there is another constant that attracts attention: Insects. Bees, lady bugs, grasshoppers, earwigs, ants. And other small creatures such as spiders and pill bugs. These all make up the busy environment of the garden and the children want to know more. Why are they there? What purpose do they serve? What do they eat? Where do they live? Why is it in the flower? They also create stories about what they notice. We are especially interested in the ants that climb up and around and over the tall sunflowers. The children grab the stems gently and say "Ant house! Sunflower ant house!" The joy in the discovery that this plant creates a home for these tiny creatures. Other times they are a bit more concerned, so we talk about moving around ones they feel nervous about, or watching quietly so that the insects feel safe. Bees sting because they are scared. So do spiders and other insects. I wonder what they want to be doing and how we can give them the space they want?
We finally are in the summer months, which means harvesting the produce is in the front of almost every child's mind. We approach this with intention and wish to create a respect for not just the plants and creatures of the garden, but for what we can harvest and how it can be used. We have special harvesting baskets, we teach best harvesting techniques and of course how to decide what is ready to pick. It is an exercise in trust and patience with varying daily results. Our goal is only to pick things together as a group, but there are times when berries are eaten or we invite children to graze on kale or beans. I feel like we are able to have this variance, because the expectation is set, so the times when there is less rules the children are still respectful of the plants and what they pick. There are times when they are the ones who find the harvesting baskets and ask to pick because they noticed some things that were ripe.
The bounty, both fruit and enjoyment, of the garden has just begun. Each day we look forward to watering, pulling weeds and noticing how it changes. It grows with us and offers us new experiences as we care for it and learn from it.