Montessori Moments

August 2, 2009

Sowing the Seeds of Love

Filed under: from the child's perspective,gardening,teaching — The Full Montessori @ 6:07 pm
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Last year, each classroom was assigned a small plot of land in which to supposedly grow fruits and vegetables.  I say supposedly because the only things that grew over the school year (on a total of six plots) were three carrots, four heads of lettuce, one humongous Swiss chard (that nobody harvested), a few tiny strawberries (that nobody picked), and a forest of out-of-control wild fennel, which is so loved by bees that we’ve decided to leave it alone.  

If you assume that we didn’t make an effort to plant more items, you’d be mistaken!  We carefully sowed rows of rosemary, basil, radishes, carrots and other veggies, but never got so much as a sprout for all our efforts.  The quality of the soil is quite poor, suitable only for growing succulents in our dry and warm climate.  The irrigation system doesn’t work properly and only waters certain parts of the plots, and sporadically at that.  Our fancy spinning composting bin lies ignored, a matted and dry mangle of dead fennel its only resident.  And, more than anything, the interest on the part of the guides was – I must admit – thwarted by the ever-present curricular pressures of the upper-middle class society to whom we owe our paychecks.

These past few weeks of summer school have brought us lovely weather, so I have been taking the children to our classroom’s plot in the afternoons with the excuse of “preparing” the soil.  In reality, I simply felt that we needed to be out of the classroom, breathing fresh air and flexing our muscles.  Initially,  I was not interested in preparing the soil for sowing anything, mainly because I haven’t the faintest clue about gardening and was discouraged by last year’s failed crops.  I simply gave the children spades and shovels and invited them to loosen the soil and dig out as many rocks as they could find.  

To my delight, they attacked the soil with passion, tilling and digging and for the most part avoiding any major accidents involving shovel-to-head contact.  After a few afternoons, our soil looked almost useable, our compost bin had been put to work, and we had built up a considerable pile of large rocks to one side of our plot.  The children, who on the first afternoon of gardening had hesitantly tiptoed around the plot trying to avoid getting dirty, now filed proudly and sweatily back to the classroom with dirt inside their shoes and under their fingernails.

Two weeks into our “gardening” efforts (which still consisted of a bare plot with no plans for crops of any kind), we sat around the ellipse discussing the day’s events before heading home.  When we got to the topic of the garden, a spunky 4.5-year old girl declared, “We should start a farm.”  A chorus of enthusiastic yeah’s greeted her suggestion.  “We could grow vegetables and then use them for snack and baking,” our little gardening activist continued.  

“But what if we only have 10 carrots, and we need 20 to bake a carrot cake?” she asked, suddenly concerned.  A five-year old boy chimed in: “I know!  We can take some of the other vegetables we’ll be growing, like spinach or broccoli, and trade them with another classroom that has lots of carrots!”  

As a murmur of approval traveled around the ellipse, a shiver of excitement travelled down my back.  In The Discovery of the Child, Maria Montessori reminded us that “when children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.”  Through her observations, she found that “children have an anxious concern for living things, and the satisfaction of this instinct fills them with delight… Nothing awakens foresight in a small child, who lives as a rule for the passing moment and without care for the morrow, so much as [taking care of plants and animals].  When he knows that… little plants will dry up if he does not water them, he binds together with a new thread of love today’s passing moments with those of the morrow.”

In that instant, a glorious opportunity to follow the children opened up before me.  I know close to nothing about gardening, but I do know that the children’s ability to develop a love of nature that will have a positive impact on the future of this planet depends in large part on my willingness to transmit this love to them in the present.  Therefore, I have armed myself with books, Internet resources, and a quartet of butternut squash seedlings that I got for free from a nice lady I found on Craigslist.  I’ve purchased broccoli and snap pea seeds, and we will experiment with growing our own vegetables from seeds when the school year begins in four weeks.  

If you have gardening tips or stories about gardening with children, I’d love to hear them!!  We need all the help we can get!

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