Garden as Co-Teacher: Part 2

In the second part of her guest post on outdoor learning and ‘Garden as Co-Teacher’, Dr. Susan Gerofsky talks about some examples of the work being done at the UBC Orchard Garden  and allies across the Lower Mainland and the world to advance gardens and outdoor spaces as sites of learning and inquiry.

As outdoor classrooms, gardens are an interesting mixture of human design and natural, growing and living things. There are many decisions to make about what we want to control (weeds? pathways? benches? soil amendment? planting patterns and choices of what to plant?) and what we will let grow as it will (edible and other wild plants? worms? insects, birds and animals that find a home in the garden? people who are drawn to spend time in the garden?) Gardening requires special skills that many adults and kids have lost touch with, even in rural areas: planting, mulching, thinning, weeding, watering, harvesting, pruning, grafting, crop rotation, companion planting, composting, cover cropping, beekeeping skills and much more. Learning how to garden and how to grow food – even how to recognize the plants we depend on for food – is already a very important area of life skills learning for many students and teachers.

Even when we think about more typical school curricular learning in subjects like math, art, language arts, science and social studies, the garden can be both a place to learn and a co-teacher. In my work with the student-led UBC Orchard Garden over the past ten years, I have been a member of a team developing school subject learning resources for the garden. We have experimented and field tested garden-based lessons for K-12 classes in just about every school subject area, and have exchanged ideas with like-minded colleagues in other parts of Canada and the US, Sweden, the UK, Ghana, Afghanistan, Turkey, Micronesia and Australia, among other places. A school garden offers opportunities to teach and learn in all curricular areas – for example:

social studies (learning about historical Chinese-Musqueam cultural contacts through a traditional Chinese Market Garden; growing, threshing and grinding wheat and baking bread as medieval farmers did; learning about traditional plant-based foods and medicines in collaboration with First Nations teachers)

language arts and drama (ecopoetry walks; writing and performing garden-based plays, stories and operas)

science (tracking the annual course of the sun with 6-month pinhole cameras; learning about plant growth and ecosystems)

math (experimenting with body-based measurement and estimation in planting garden plots; building hyperboloid garden gates; exploring fractal plant patterns and Fibonacci sequences)

foods and textiles (growing herbs, vegetables and berries for cooking; growing and foraging fibre and dye plants to be used in weaving, knitting and braiding)

music (growing plants to create musical instruments; listening to the sounds of the human and more-than-human world in the garden, and creating wind-based and place-specific musical compositions)

Working with hundreds of teacher candidates and experienced teachers each year, the Orchard Garden team is now preparing a website and book to share ideas through the Cultivating Learning Network.

Many wonderful groups are doing related and collaborative work on garden-based learning for all ages in Vancouver: EartHand Gleaners, the Means of Production Garden, Uncle Hoonki’s Fabulous Horn Shop, Intergenerational Landed Learning on the UBC Farm, Roots on the Roof, the Environmental Youth Alliance, SPEC, the Stanley Park Ecology Society, Think&Eat Green@Schools, Fresh Roots Organics, Hives for Humanity, Sole Food, Village Vancouver, CoDesign, the Maple Ridge Environmental School and many others. I encourage you to consider getting involved in getting kids and adults outdoors, learning and teaching just about any topic you can imagine, in collaboration with a garden!

Dr. Susan Gerofsky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC and a member of the Board of EartHand Gleaners Society.