Special report by Siouxland Public Media's Mae Macfarlane.
Every Thursday morning during the summer, if you were to enter the playground at Clark Early Childhood center, you would be greeted with a spray of water, muddy vegetables, and a group of gardening kindergarteners.
Kristina McGrain, a special-education teacher at Clark, is one of the founding teachers of the Clark Garden Club. Teachers like McGrain are in charge of this program which is designed to include students in a hands-on learning process, and have taken on this year-round project starting in the fall with harvesting, then well into the spring when students plant seeds.
“Last year a couple other teachers and I took a Gardening 101 class and part of it was designing and creating a garden. We had volunteers to build boxes for us and then we also received some grant money so that we could buy some boxes to put together.”
Going on its second summer, the garden club has grown. There are a dozen garden boxes, all of which are the perfect size for little hands to plant seeds, weed, and cultivate life-long skills.
Clark students are growing many different types of vegetables and herbs such as tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, basil, dill, and thyme. There even is a pumpkin patch on the north side of the building. Students involved have the opportunity to take home the fruit of their labors, and for many of them, it’s their first time trying these vegetables! Baylis, a rising kindergarten student, has some info about today’s pick.
Garden club is also more than just gardening; each student is invited to work on a craft that relates to what is happening in the garden that week or has something to do with the gardening process.
“Some of the different crafts we do, we try to do at least one craft a week with the kids that’s related to the garden. About two weeks ago we made little garden grass-heads. So they got to take them home and water them and then the hair grows, which is the grass. this last week we have different rocks to paint so that will help label all the different items in the garden boxes. We also did some planting in our water jugs and then we got to see those grow from seed and we did some transplanting with some of them too. They’ve gotten to see that sometimes they don’t grow and that happens but then just try again. So yeah they get to do that, but I think most of the fun is with watering and then the craft that we do.”
Angie, and her son George, a Clark kindergartener, have enjoyed the opportunity of learning more about gardening and about his school. Parents and students involved in garden club are having a chance to explore the building, and especially the playground before school starts again.
“It was fun when school started last year and he lined up on the blacktop every morning we came over and looked at the plants. He loved going to look at the tomatoes so he would pick a couple and have it as a snack later. It was fun for him to have something before school started that he felt comfortable with and that he enjoyed. It was also good that he got to see a couple of familiar faces and now this year he says, ‘this is my school’ and ‘This is my garden’. He’s having a lot of fun again this year.”
Garden club gives students a way to see their teachers and friends over the summer, allowing for a smooth transition into the school year. Angie and George have been a part of garden club for two years now and George has been able to try many different foods that he got to grow himself.
Reporter: “Has there been a favorite fruit or vegetable that George has grown?”
“He loves tomatoes. They are one of his favorite things. He likes peppers and last year they had him try, one of the first things they did was have them all try a couple different types of vegetables, and we found out he likes sugar snap peas. So now that’s one of his favorite snacks to have.”
Reporter: “Is he going to try a radish when you go home?”
“I think so! I think he will try a little bite of one and then give it to daddy.”
Garden club is an opportunity for students to get a little dirty, but also learn more about a healthy lifestyle and how to cultivate it.