Growing A Garden Inside Your Classroom And Inside Your Heart
The colder months when the ground is wet and soggy, the noses are runny, and preparing a class of kiddos is such a chore. It is understandable to forgo outdoor gardening and nature-based activities. Who wants to spend too much time getting those mittens, coats, and hats on a gaggle of children who may only last a few minutes before a meltdown of some sort? Well, I am here to share with you: fun, easy, low cost, Farm to ECE, STEM, and nature-based activities in which you do not have to go outside. You do not need an outdoor green space or garden beds to do gardening activities, but of course, going outside is always preferable to getting those wiggles out.
The A in STEAM
With every seasonal change, I introduce a short song. This winter season, I wrote a song to the tune of the itsy-bitsy spider. In the winter, each class began with:
Line 1: Winter plants are quietly (finger to lips… shhhh)
Line 2: Growing in the bed (hands to head play sleeping)
Line 3: Digging their roots deep (play digging from standing to crouching)
Line 4: So.. SPRING! (jump up in the air) leaves can be fed! (shake hands like leaves and pretend to eat)nom nom nom.
The song and the movements help us welcome the lesson, move our bodies, and celebrate the season. It also creates comfort in its consistency.
Whether you have a greenspace and access to a garden or not you can welcome the Winter Season with the Solstice. The solstice and equinox mark the astronomical first day of a season. Seasonal education is important because it ties directly to observation, science inquiry, and our rotation around the life-giving sun. Even with our varied weather patterns and changing climate, I find it centering to connect children and myself to the cycles of mother nature and the tasks associated. While many people focus on the traditional holidays in December, I go straight for the Winter Solstice party! I ask questions about the light outside. Is it dark when you wake up and when you go to bed? Was it dark in this summer? Do you remember? Maybe we can measure or do an experiment to track the sun? What do plants need to grow? If there is less sunlight do you think the plants will grow tall? I tell stories about the day and the night. There are many books about the Winter Solstice including The Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden and Iliana: A Winter Solstice Tale by Walter Fordham.
For our seasonal parties we always make a treat. This year a local grower gave us hundreds of local kiwis so our solstice treat was making homemade frosting to decorate yummy kiwi cookies. Every child at Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, GA got to taste and take home a kiwi. For some it was their first! We also dehydrated kiwis and the light shining through each slice is magical! Before tasting we wait till everyone is served. We count to four, referencing the seasons, looking at each other, smiling and say a toast, "Happy Winter Solstice! Cheers!"
After or before treats we have a dance party with scarves, shakers, lights and more.
We lucked out with local kiwi this year, but there are so many options for seasonal healthy local treats to welcome the new season. Here in the South, many of the citrus fruits are in season. Apples and pears are also delicious this time of year too. You can also make mulled cider or mint tea. We call it candy cane tea! You may be able to get local fresh produce donated or priced well from your local growers. It is wonderful to go into your neighborhood farmers market any time of year and connect. Find out about what is growing well this year and if you can introduce new foods to your class. You may also be able to reach out to your students' caregivers and discover if they garden, farm, or know people who do. Perhaps, you could turn this activity into a family engagement event by inviting them.
There are many ways to dehydrate food. We have a dehydrator but you can also use your oven, microwave, even car! It will depend on several factors like: what you are dehydrating and what level of humidity is in the air. Here are six ways to try dehydrating.
Solstice and Equinox Party Supplies for your class:
1. Disco lights
2. Scarves for decoration and or dancing
3. Musical shakers (you can craft using recyclable items)
4. Healthy treats