In March 2016, we were fortunate enough to be gifted an eco-garden from the Friends of Dulwich (a group of parent volunteers). Since then, we have had children between the ages of two and seven experience what gardening can be like whilst living in such a big city as Shanghai! Many of the children in DUCKS haven’t had the opportunity to get their hands into soil, see worms in their natural habitat, or eat fresh produce that they have grown from seed to plate. The garden has brought so much learning into the lives of the children and their teachers each year as we explore what an eco-garden looks like in Shanghai.
At the beginning of each school year, children who are three to four years old (Nursery) and five to six years old (Year 1) take on the adventure of gardening. They are joined by some Year 2 children, a group of students from our Senior School, teachers, supportive parents, and ayis.
In September 2018, the Year 1 children decided to grow their own carrots. They started by de-weeding the planters, talking about worms and what effect they have on the soil, and planting the carrot seeds, making sure they were evenly spaced out. Every so often, the children would go out and water the carrots, but unfortunately they struggled to grow. The children were a little disappointed but are ready and willing to try again now that it is Spring.
The Nursery children have enjoyed learning all about how to grow vegetables in the organic garden. The children spent time weeding and getting the soil ready for planting. As the children, parents, and teachers toiled in the soil, they found worms that the children learned are good for helping the plants to grow. With the help of the DUCKS community, the children planted vegetable seeds and created a garden bed, where they planted an array of common household vegetables like onions, garlic, carrots, and potatoes to see if they would grow.
During the winter months, the Nursery children tried their best through the wind and rain to nurture the seedlings and hoped that they would grow. As the weather began to warm up, the children discovered that the lettuces and other vegetables had in fact grown and continue to grow. The children have shared their excitement with their parents and teachers, describing the lettuces that they have grown:
“The lettuces have got big, but we can’t eat them yet, we have to wait.” (Olivia, age four)
“We like doing the digging, and we want to see what it tastes like.” (Lucy, age four)
Over the next few months, the children in Nursery will be harvesting the vegetables that have grown in the gardens and making salads with them that they can then enjoy during snack times. The next step will be talking with the children about the concept of composting and collecting raw vegetable scraps to be placed in the compost bin to create great nutrients for the gardens.
In Year 1, two classes did research on how to increase the number of bees around the garden. The children had learned that, without bees, there would be no food for humans to eat. The children didn’t find many bees in January because of the weather, but decided to research which types of plants and flowers are good for bees, as the bee population is sadly declining. The children in Year 1 raised awareness about saving the bees by holding a ‘Save The Bees’ day, sharing with the DUCKS and Junior School communities why it is so important that we make changes in our daily lives so that the bee population can rise again. At the end of the term, the children were so happy to discover some bees in our garden, fueling their desire to keep ‘Saving the Bees’!
For the remainder of the year, the Year 1 children will be planting ‘bee friendly’ plants to help attract bees to our eco-garden, putting the research that they undertook into action.
The eco-garden has taught the children of DUCKS so many valuable skills and lessons. When seeds haven’t grown, it has disappointed the children but it has also taught them about perseverance, responsibility, and what they need to do to ensure that the garden does produce vegetables to eat and flowers for the bees. Planning a garden, planting the seeds, and watching them grow has given the children a sense of purpose. Making sure that the plants get enough fertilizer, water, and sun has fostered mindfulness. The concepts learned while gardening, like composting food scraps for fertilizer or using gathered rainwater, have also modeled deep respect and responsibility for taking care of our planet. Furthermore, studies show that when children have contact with soil during activities like digging and planting they have improved moods, better learning experiences, and decreased anxiety. Most importantly, the self-esteem a child gets from eating something they have grown themselves is priceless.
The DUCKS children look forward to continuing their adventures in the eco-garden, celebrating what they grow and embracing challenges when they arise.
- Renee Wheeler, DUCKS Sustainability Coordinator (with contributions from Nursery children and teachers, and Year 1 children and teachers)