As children, September signifies summer’s end, leaving behind glorious outdoor experiences in nature to spend most the day inside a classroom. Some Kaua`i schools however, are committed to including outdoor learning on the campus, and so have created beautiful outdoor learning spaces for students.
These special places are gardens large and small. They become favorite gathering places for students; places to grow and harvest food, plant seeds, and learn about plant biology, pollination and diversity.
Gardens teach lessons that support the core curriculum in the classroom, and may involve the humanities, social studies, math, science and nutrition, all of which are easy to integrate.
Sam Henriques, St. Catherine School middle math and science teacher, is the driving force behind the school garden. Henriques uses it not only with her classes, but now has opened it to the whole school.
When the founder of the school’s garden talked about why she created it, she held up a handful of kale.
“It’s this. When kids first come to the garden they don’t even know what kale is, and by the end of the school year they are lining up for second helpings of kale smoothies.”
School gardens offer students, teachers and parents a chance to work together as they grow, harvest and eat healthy local food. For most students, a year of school garden classes can change dramatically how they eat.
For example, children who garden are now asking parents for bok choy, kale and chard, as they’ve acquired a taste and know how to grow and prepare these greens.
There are enticements to teachers, as well. For example, Ku `Aina Pa, a teacher training on Hawai`i Island, instructs teachers about garden advancements. Read more about it online at naturetalks.net.
Another opportunity comes through the Edible Schoolyard Academy in Berkeley, Calif., a non-profit organization offering professional development opportunities. One of the oldest schoolyard gardens has its roots in the Edible Schoolyard Project started by world-renowned chef, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse
Both of these opportunities demonstrate the social, cultural, health and academic benefits of integrating the garden and outdoor classroom into the day-to-day life of school children.
Here at home, Koloa Elementary School is a leader in this style of education, offering a cooking club once a week after school. Hanalei Elementary School implemented a Farm to School Friday once a month, and Kapa`a Middle School offers an after-school cooking class for students.
Other schools, such as Island School, have well-established gardens, and still others, such as the new middle-high school, Pu`ukumu in Kilauea, seeks to integrate a learning landscape with the curriculum.
St. Catherine’s garden underwent a complete revitalization last year. Now the central garden encompasses 600 square feet, including10 raised beds brimming with healthy produce.
Last year, students grew and harvested over 200 pounds of Chinese cabbage and Asian greens, sweet potatoes, mustard greens, kale, collards, arugula and lettuces that they donated to their food bank.
To learn more about how you can get involved and support schools in their health and wellness initiatives through gardening and fresh local food, contact Nature Talks at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 808-634-3021.
Colleen Carroll, Ed.D., director of Nature Talks, has worked with school gardens, environmental education and urban forestry in Hawai`i for 20 years. Nature Talks offers workshops, publications, inspirational presentations and provides support for school garden programs on Kaua`i. Visit naturetalks.net to learn more or to preview her upcoming book, “Inspirational Gardeners.”