Originally a Mid-westerner, my Spring mentality has been jarred awake early in the Northwest. Today’s budding trees provide the relief that we’ve made it through the dogged days of winter and have sunny days ahead. That is of course, after the torrents of Spring rain. Dreaming of delicious sunny days and blue skies make some part of my brain salivate.
In spite of that great news, this year the signs of spring launch my brain into mental gymnastics as I worry whether I will be ready: ready to receive a full swath of kids to be taught in our garden. I can’t stop thinking about how many people have already planted their peas!
Albeit these worries, the planning for our Children’s Garden Program has been enjoyable. I get to do things like learn the lyrics to the bug song “Head, Thorax, Abdomen” and figure out how to create compost with kids in both a fun and educational way. As our plans culminate, the nature of our programming is coming to a head. For the Spring, we’ve concluded on being a host for weekly classes in the garden with an after school program, a preschool class, and a 5th grade class. We will also manage a garden plot and work party for middle/ high school aged students in order to donate fresh, natural veggies to the local food bank.
This is the Danny Woo Community Garden’s first year to incorporate a full growing season of classes, and I have learned that it takes copious coordinating. For anyone interested in starting a Childrens’ Garden Program, I thought it might be helpful to share some resources and tips that have been passed to me or that I have learned along the way:
- No earth shattering advice here, but…everything takes more time than you think
- Finances: The later you start looking for funding, the later you receive money. We applied for two grants in late fall (November) and will not receive the money until late March and beyond. It would be nice to have the money now. When applying for grants, letters of support from groups that will be attending your program are very helpful. According to one of our funders, our letters of support were a big factor in their decision. Possible grant resources: local Lion’s Club, the United Way, www.kidsgardening.org.
- Community: We’ve tried to give community members ownership of the project by gaining input on what individuals, children, and youth groups would like to see incorporated into the Childrens’ Garden. We did this by taking youth groups on a tour of local childrens’ gardens and surveying what aspects they would like to see in our garden, asking participating groups what their needs are and what they would like to grow in the garden, and also by incorporating the knowledge of our elderly community gardeners as volunteers. Letting groups know that we can include their objectives in our program is great incentive. For example, teachers we are working with who are strapped by test results, find great comfort in knowing we can incorporate some of their math and science learning goals into the garden curriculum.
- Coordinating with participating groups: Start early! Communicating can take weeks or even months when you are working with multiple groups.
- Volunteers: Sticking to the theme, it is never too early to recruit volunteers; but 2-3 months seems sufficient. We started about 2 months out with postings online and attendance at a flower and garden show (where we advertised). Now in the heat of a volunteer search, I can see that an extra month would have provided more wiggle room. We created a volunteer manual and orientation in order to let volunteers know what to expect. The manual took a lot of time. You can advertise your volunteer opportunity on Idealist, Craigslist, Volunteer Match, a blog, a facebook page, and with Service learning and volunteer opportunities through universities. We found a few volunteers through tabling at events. Also helpful, WA state child abuse and information background checks are free for non-profits. Find out more information here: https://fortress.wa.gov/wsp/watch/
- Curriculum: Two of my favorite curriculum books are Teaching Peace Through Gardening by Seattle Tilth and The Growing Classroom- Garden Based Science by Roberta Jaffe and Gary Appel. They both give detailed activity ideas and Teaching Peace Through Gardening gives a detailed lesson outline.
- Kiddos: It is difficult to keep childrens’ attention when there is down time between structured activities. Thus, I have heard from multiple people that it is good to provide a ‘back up activity hand book’ for your volunteers as well as an activity chest that children can rummage through.
That’s all for now folks! Best of luck with your gardens this year.