Edible Schoolyard NYC’s garden curriculum creates hands-on learning opportunities that provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to make healthier choices and to change the way they eat for life. In our work with the students at P.S. 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn, we have seen firsthand how the experience of caring for plants from seed-to-table encourages students to love foods they might otherwise dismiss. If you drop by one of our garden lessons, you are likely to see the students clamoring for more broccoli during closing circle, or to hear them compare a dark green leaf of bok choy to a lollipop.
Work in the garden also provides an authentic and engaging way for students to grow stronger in their academic subjects. First graders become scientists, making hypotheses and subsequent observations about the peas they have planted in three different kinds of soil. Fifth graders engage in anthropology, noting how other cultures throughout history have utilized herbs as they preserve the herbs they themselves have grown and harvested. While our lessons maximize the unique hands-on opportunities afforded by the garden, they are also academically rigorous, connecting to the Common Core State Standards in ELA and math, and to New York State Standards in science and social studies.
In the end, each lesson is meant to strengthen the students’ understanding of what it means to be healthy. Through the garden, they learn not only about their individual wellness, but also about the impact their food choices have on the environment—and how they can work to better the health of their ecosystem.
We have included 36 fall and winter lessons taken from a curriculum that contains one lesson per month for every grade, kindergarten through fifth. The majority of lessons are written to take place over two consecutive days, 50 minutes a day, with roughly equal time given to academic inquiry and to garden work. Because of the school calendar, December and February are designed as one-day lessons.
While we have provided sample “scripts” for teachers, we neither expect nor desire that these will be followed in lockstep. Each teacher will bring his or her own creative lens to our lessons, and each school has unique circumstances. Every time we have taught these lessons at our flagship school, P.S. 216 in Brooklyn, we have experienced wonderful variations, as children bring their own interests and inquiries with them into the garden. The large immigrant population, for example, has provided our teachers with both opportunities—making connections to a grandfather’s garden in Russia, and challenges—helping English language learners navigate the intricacies of the water cycle.
Likewise, we understand that the gardening opportunities for each school will be determined by considerations of time, space and human resources, and we hope that our professional development offered you ideas about how to modify lessons to best serve the individual circumstances of your school.
While the activities vary greatly from class to class, most lessons follow a regular structure, which we modeled during our professional development workshop.
Opening circle: Borrowing a tradition from our parent program in Berkeley, all ESYNYC classes begin with an opening circle. Opening circle is an opportunity to greet the students and to introduce the concepts and activities of the day. In the December Kindergarten lesson (about seeds as food), students are given a challenge: examine the objects in front of you to figure out what they have in common. (Answer: they are all seeds, and they are all edible). In second grade in October—a lesson about food preservation—students listen to a read-aloud passage from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods about preparing food to last through the winter. A common strategy for opening circle is having the students to turn and talk to the person sitting next them about the topic, so that all students have a chance to engage. In the January 3rd grade lesson about seed dispersal, for example, students examine pictures of seed adaptations with their partners, attempting to work out how the seed in their picture was traveling from its parent plant.
Inquiry Activity: Each garden lesson has at least one inquiry activity which introduces or re-enforces an academic topic related to the garden. Fourth graders study Native American agricultural techniques, and create advertisements to persuade colonists about their efficacy. Third graders learn about the dramatic changes brought upon by the dawn of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution. Fifth graders investigate the impact of garbage on the environment, simulating a shopping activity in which they generate the least amount of waste with their choices of groceries. Inquiry activities are the bridge between what is happening seasonally in the garden and rigorous, standards-based academic content.
Garden Activity: Every lesson also includes at least one garden activity, ideally related in some way to the academic topic of the month. In the fourth grade lesson about Native American agriculture, students garden using one of the methods they studied, such as amending soil with kelp. Third graders studying the Neolithic Revolution become seed savers themselves—harvesting, sorting and packaging seeds from the garden. Fifth graders follow up their study of garbage and recycling with work in the compost bin—seeing first hand how the garden helps us reduce the amount of waste we produce.
Closing Circle: Also a tradition from Edible Schoolyard Berkeley, closing circle is an opportunity to review the lesson, reinforcing links between academic content and the day’s experience in the garden. We also like to provide an appropriate tasting during closing circle—radishes during root study, pea shoots for signs of spring, herbal tea from the herb preservation lesson.