GARDENS AS EDUCATORS:
FROM PRESCHOOL TO GRAD SCHOOL
The Everett Children’s Garden
Outside the Herbarium room in the New York Botanical Garden’s Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, is a gingerbread house worthy of Hansel and Gretel. Inside, it smelled like a winter storybook kitchen. Classes from White Plains Post Road School seated on bright red counter stools followed instructions to “Stick your fingers in the wheat flour. It doesn’t smell, does it? Now, take a tiny pinch of ginger and then smell your fingers.” The goal of the gingerbread-making lesson was learning about all the plant ingredients. The instructor on the fountain side of the candy-store style counter continued delivering spices saying, “Now, another important ingredient is cinnamon. Cinnamon grows on a tree, and it’s the outside of a tree. Smell that!”
Under the watchful eye of a painted gingerbread man, children, touched, smelled, and used a mortar and pestle to grind wheat, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and sugar cane.
In the adjacent Kids Lab room, children observed the different colors, hairs, and ridges of plant parts under microscopes and took notes in an origami “field notebook.” They sprinkled on some the ground spices on glue circles in their notebooks and labeled them.
In the vestibule leading out to the Dodge Activity Center and tent, the ultimate gingerbread possibilities results were on display. A gingerbread town with gingerbread jazz band and ice skaters; a gingerbread farmhouse, farmers and animals; a gingerbread firehouse, firemen, fire trucks and hoses. These edible artworks were donated by Brooklyn bakers The Cake Studio and Mark Joseph Cakes, Ardsley baker Riviera Bakehouse and Manhattan bakers LovinSullivan Cakes and Soho’s Balthazar Restaurant.
Children decorated their field books with gingerbread ingredients. They then listened to a story (I’ll let you guess the title) read by a volunteer in the explainer program. Explainers attend training sessions, learn about plants, receive personal mentoring, and earn a certificate from the NYBG and a letter of recommendation for college and job applications.
Jeff Downing, Vice President for Education, says the NYBG has “quite an array of education programs. School group programs take place throughout the garden. The Children’s Adventure Garden offers guided programs for pre-K to grade 5 throughout the year. We also have programs for grades K-8 in a facility we call the Green School housed in our Victorian Conservatory; the difference being that the Green School programs are a little longer and take a two part format. The first part takes place in a classroom where they learn something about plants, plant science; then they go out into a guided exploration of either the conservatory or the gardens as seasonally appropriate. They get to stand in the shoes of a field botanist.
We have a very robust program of professional development for teachers. It’s successful in part I think because many people find themselves teaching science in public schools, when science was not their focus originally. We give them a good grounding in how to teach science at different grade levels and it’s all based on city, state and federal sequencing standards.”
Teacher development takes place in the Dodge Activity Center, just left of a topiary caterpillar. “At this point, children and teachers come to us,” said Mr. Downing. “We are trying to develop an outreach program and figure out how to extend beyond the garden’s gate.”
In mid-January the curriculum switched to George Washington Carver’s work as a botanist. Children made products using peanuts and plant parts. In February, Chocolate and Vanilla Adventures, children learn about cacao seeds and vanilla seedpods. They will prepare and taste, compare Mayan to modern hot chocolate. It’s one of life’s sweeter lessons.#