Toward the end of my summer vacation, I searched our local library for appropriate books to begin the school year. I came home with a sizable stack: Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes, Foxy by Emma Dodd, and The first Day of School by Mercer Mayer, among other familiar titles. Tucked in the middle of my pile was one I hadn’t seen before—Our School Garden, by Rick Swann, illustrated by Christy Hale.
The book begins with a poem about a child’s first day at a new school. He’s given a tour by another student and . . .
He shows me the library, office, nurse,
Lunchroom, art and gym.
“The best is last. He grins. “Out here!”
I open double doors expecting
Playfields, courts, or jungle gyms
But stop in place, amazed.
By what? A living space
With vibrant greens, fruits and flowers
And hum of bees . . .
Our school garden!
The cheery illustrations reminded me of our own school garden.
This book is longer than those I usually read to my speech students so I poked around and selected a few short sections to provide a springboard for further discussion. Like seeds planted in fertile soil, the author dropped bits of information within the book’s pages, which easily sprouted into further enquiry and exploration. The blend of fiction and nonfiction fit in nicely with our Common Core Standards and the varying tastes of my students.
After a few pages, the kids were inspired to draw some of their favorite plants and garden creatures:
One student, Lewis, was particularly creative:
When I asked about his drawing Lewis told me “It’s my pet worm, ‘Whizzy’. He wears a cowboy hat. I found him in the garden and he was cold so he crawled up my pant leg and I took him home. He doesn’t like living outside.”
I admired the drawing and the story. With that encouragement, and the admiration of his peers, Lewis continued. “He’s getting old. He’s turning browner and all scrunkely.”
Lewis has excellent language skills but I thought I might as well take the opportunity to expand his vocabulary so I asked what ‘scrunkely’ means. I was hoping to give him a real word that might do as well as the one he'd created.
“You know, he has those circles on his body and they’re getting, ‘scrunkely,’ like this.” He circled his hands, shook them rapidly and scrunched up his face. I wasn’t able to come up with a better word for that, so 'scrunkely' it is. (And I thought I was going to expand Lewis’ vocabulary—he just expanded mine.)
As the author said in Our School Garden!
“A school garden is a wonderful place to learn about the environment and our local food system. But did you know that it’s also a great place to explore science, math, social studies, art, and writing?”
After visiting our own garden this week, and hearing the kids’ discussions, I have no doubt the author is correct. Our students plant and care for seedlings, measure spaces, and calculate costs and profits during our spring plant sale. As to writing, just ask Lewis. He’s a great storyteller and, it seems to me, our garden planted seeds of inspiration in a future writer.