Welcome to the West Oaks Private Pre-School Garden
Gardens are a wonderful learning tool and life experience for children of all ages. Most children have a natural curiosity of plant and animal life that naturally translates into a love for gardening. Simply put, gardens get students of all ages excited! In Spring 2017, we completed the construction of our outdoor classroom with the assistance of a grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture.
This interest in gardening then carries over into the school subjects that are related to the garden. We have incorporated all of the traditional classroom learning topics including math, science, reading, language arts and social studies into our gardening activities. After visiting the garden, the children return to their classroom where the teachers re-emphasize the relationship between items in the garden and their classroom activities.
Most people, especially children, remember and understand better when they do things rather than just reading or hearing about them in class. Our school garden provides a natural laboratory where children can apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom. From simple math problems to more complex science experiments, our garden is a jewel in our curriculum allowing children to apply theoretical knowledge to a real life situation.
During March 2017, we had our annual planting day with the assistance of teachers and students.
Regardless of age, all of our children at West Oaks Private Pre School and Grandma”s House are involved in the planting, maintenance and harvesting of our garden. Each classroom was assigned a dedicated bed and the teachers were allowed to choose from a variety of flower, fruit,herb and vegetable plants for their beds.
Our youngest participants (ages 2-4), were primarily responsible for the flower beds. On planting day, all of the children and teachers participated in our gardening activities by assisting with the planting of their classrooms” beds. The children used water buckets to soften the soil, they helped dig small holes, and they helped plant the various seedlings. Several classes chose to start with seeds (instead of seedlings) so the children helped toil the soil, spread the seeds and then gently re-rake a few inches of top soil over the scattered seeds. After planting, the children all assisted in the first watering of our new life forms using a variety of containers, hoses and spray bottles. The children were excited by the dirt, tools and watering activities. They truly did not know what to expect over the next several weeks and months as the plants begin to take over the beds.
In prior years, a class had scattered sunflower seeds throughout their bed and waited patiently for life form to begin. Over the course of only a few weeks, the first seeds started to bloom and started their tremendous growth spurt to summer sunflowers. By late July of each year, our sunflowers had reached a height of more than 6 feet and our first full sunflower blooms (picture) awaited our anxious and curious gardeners.
In prior years, another class planted a large variety of wildflower seeds throughout the middle of their bed with smaller flower seedlings along the border. Again, in a few weeks the first blooms began and the children were stunned by a selection of beautiful wildflowers of all shapes, sizes and colors. Some of the wildflowers reached heights of more than 5 feet by mid-July only to be severely damaged by a traditional Houston thunderstorm with high winds.
Another class chose a variety of red, white and purple annuals and perennials to design a bed with a layout of an American flag. While this bed had it’s moments and the students’ intentions could be seen at the outset, the growth patterns (and size) of the different species of flowers resulted in a beautiful, colorful bed but not quite a flag design. We realize now that we are not yet ready to be landscape architects.
Other classes identified and acquired flowering plants with the specific goal of creating a butterfly and humming bird garden. Two beds as well as some border shrubs were planted with the primary purpose of trying to attract these two beautiful forms of wildlife. The plants included in these beds included Butterfly weed, Firebush, Lantana, Shrimp plant, Society Garlic, Daylily, Pentas, Plumbago, Hibiscus, Abelia Grandiflora, Mexican Heather, and Impatiens. By mid summer, the plants had all taken root and had shown considerable new growth. We have seen a small butterfly migration towards these beds and we eagerly await the migration of the hummingbirds each summer to see if we have been successful with our hummingbird plants.
One of our most experienced teachers who brags about having a “black” thumb decided to plant a bed of hardy succulents that would not require much skill (or luck) to grow. This bed includes a variety of cactus, including a 3 ft centerpiece, surrounded by other succulents including Jade, Agave,Yuccas, Purple Heart, and Aloe. Despite a relatively wet summer in Houston, this bed has flourished beyond our expectations.
The older classes generally took responsibility for the vegetable, herb and fruit beds. We have planted a variety of seedlings all with tremendous success. We also planted seeds of edamame, fennel, watermelon and basil with great success. Only one of our vegetable beds failed to yield a crop of edible vegetables and that was a bed of yellow squash. The squash plants themselves grew wildly and yielded numerous flowering buds but these buds never developed into an actual squash.
One of our most successful vegetable beds, consisted of a variety of small tomato plants (from seedlings) including Red Cherry, Tomatilla, and Roma tomatoes. These plants were all in our tallest bed (16 inches deep) to allow their root systems to take hold over the summer months. These plants grew to more than 4 feet tall by late July and yielded a bountiful crop of new, sweet tomatoes daily. Each plant was supported by a cage that served two purposes. In addition to supporting the plant itself, the cage was used by spiders to weave beautiful webs throughout the summer. Not only were these webs fascinating sights for the children, they served the purpose of minimizing insect damage to the tomatoes plants themselves. This bed also had flowers planted around the borders (in the hollowed-out cement block) to attract beneficial insects.
Another bed, consisted of a combination of eggplant along the outer edges and okra plants in the middle. Both of these vegetables grew wildly and also yielded bountiful harvests. Additionally, along the border (in the hollowed-out block), we planted a rotating combination of fennel and onions. Again, these plants served a dual purpose of repelling insects as well as yielding edible herbs themselves. The children (and teachers) were fascinated by the licorice smell of the fennel leaves and the size of the fennel bulbs (and onion bulbs) when harvested. This bed also contains rosemary, lavender and thyme all of which have done very well.
A third vegetable bed served as our pepper headquarters. We planted a variety of bell peppers, banana peppers, hot peppers, jalapeno and wax peppers in an arrangement around the bed. While all of these plants yielded their fair share of peppers, we noticed that our bird population preferred this bed more than any other. The birds allowed a few peppers to get to their full maturity but most were nibbled or eaten on the vine. We can only think of what happen to the poor birds who decided our jalapeno and hot peppers looked appetizing. Around the border, we planted arugula (rocket) seeds to try our hand at this wonderful fragrant lettuce. Unfortunately, only a few of the seeds took and yielded small plants at that. We also planted mint seedlings which are now threatening to take over the entire bed.
Our earliest success came with our bed of strawberries, eggplant and mint (again). The strawberries were the first to bloom after planting and they yielded a smart harvest of beautiful, tart little strawberries- these were a hit with young and old alike. Likewise, our eggplants which were in the middle of this bed took off wildly and yielded two perfect size eggplants very early in the summer and continued to offer new eggplants through mid-August. In the borders of the bed, we planted edamame (soy) seeds with great success. A large percentage of the plants yielded blooms and then ultimately a good harvest of Edamame. We then educated the kids and staff alike on the different uses of edamame through various cultures of the world including the wildly popular recipe of simple steaming (served with salt) like in many Asian restaurants.
Another bed of basil (4 varieties) was planted from seeds. This bed took awhile to yield blooms but began to grow wildly during July. We had the kids taste and smell the 4 types of basil (Genovese, Lemon, Thai and Purple) to see if they could tell the difference between the different varieties. We then used the Genovese variety to make a home-made basil pesto sauce as a class project which we then served to the children on bread (Bruschetta). The children were very excited to be eating something that they had planted and nurtured over 4 months.
Our watermelon bed has been a smashing success (no pun intended). We planted this bed from seeds in April and began to see the first blooms of plants in about 3 weeks with our first watermelon starting to form by early June. The plant itself has grown wildly outside the bed and we have had to continuously move the leaves and vines back into the bed to try to preserve the safety of the watermelons themselves. Unfortunately, our 1st large melon which was only days from being harvested was found one day cracked in half (unknown whether this was at the hands of one of our children or an unwanted visitor like a cat, squirrel or bird). Interestingly, within 2 days of this discovery, the entire melon simply dissolved back into the bed. We have two more melons that were harvested in early September that had wonderful flavor. This bed is bordered by mint (growing wildly) and a variety of perennial flowers.
How Gardening Is Incorporated Into Classroom Activities:
Math – children use math as a planning tool for the garden. They learn about measurement, volume, weight, spacing, sequencing and other mathematical concepts.
Reading, Writing and Language Arts – The garden has a lot to talk about, read about and write about! The students will track the life cycle of the garden through classroom journals, pictures and personal experiences.
Social Studies – The children will learn about other cultures through the foods and spices that are grown in the garden. They will also get a chance to cook with the herbs and vegetables as we celebrate the foods and traditions of other countries.
Science – The garden is a laboratory in biology and ecology, weather and its effects, soil, energy, animals, insects and nutrition.
Life Science – The garden itself is a lesson in life skills. The students are responsible for their garden, and plants in it will live or die depending on their dedication. Through the garden, the children learn about accountability and respect for living things (plants and animals).