Student Growth Through Gardening: How Clairbourn’s Garden Expands Education

Noelle Shoemake
Only in a garden can one experience the technicolor tartness of biting into a fresh tomato, enjoy the smell of sun-warmed, scented herbs, and delight in the buzzing bees, who offer a pollinator’s promise of good things to come. In today’s technology-centric world, Clairbourn School’s gardens provide students with a way to connect with life’s simple, outdoor pleasures. But more importantly, they offer a way for students to understand humanity’s role in maintaining a healthy, life-sustaining ecosystem.

These bountiful and beautiful gardens, full of vegetables, herbs, and fruit provide a tangible experience that will never be duplicated by an iPad app, a textbook, or a video. In an era where children spend more time indoors, Clairbourn’s garden beckons them into an outdoor environment where they can use all of their senses to see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and learn in a new way. Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better.” 
Watch this 2-minute video of students experiencing fall harvest classes in the Clairbourn garden.

According to the article “Let It Grow,” an experiential garden program like Clairbourn’s plays a crucial role in altering student’s perceptions of healthy foods and provides a real-time look into the process of how food is made and where it comes from. Students also gain a more positive outlook about bees, worms, and insects. Instead of fearing them, they begin to understand the critical role each one plays in the production of food in a garden.  

Twice a year, students at Clairbourn School attend Harvest Classes and experience hands-on lessons in the gardens covering symbiotic plantings, soil health, irrigation, seed gathering, plant families, and even health and nutrition. This November, excited preschool through Grade 5 students passed under the flowering passion-fruit arbor into the big garden ready for their Fall Harvest lessons.  Classes were taught by Farmer Loretta who works with Harvest to Home, a company that designs, installs, and manages organic, edible gardens. At the start of each class she invited students to observe what was growing in each garden bed and to point out to her what they saw. Many students enjoyed the discovery process, and some even recognized specific plants, herbs, and vegetables.

Farmer Loretta welcomes students and shows them around the garden.

As part of the lesson, they were invited to touch and smell the plants and vegetables. Curious questions came up like, “What plant is this?” and “Why are there holes in some leaves?” Farmer Loretta addressed every question and then spoke about soil health, pollination, and pollinators.
Before the class ended, students were invited to pick the vegetables needed to make a Confetti Salad. The visited the garden beds in pairs to harvest peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, edible flowers, herbs, and string beans. Farmer Loretta ensured that each student knew the proper way to pick and pull from the garden, and she also ensured that each group only took what they needed.

Students harvest plants to be used in Confetti Salad recipe.

Once the ingredients were harvested, Farmer Loretta cut everything into small pieces and mixed them in a large bowl. To finish the salad, colorful, edible flower petals were sprinkled over the top. Every student was encouraged to try a plate of salad with or without Ranch dressing. Because of their involvement with the garden, students were eager to taste the Confetti Salad they had just harvested themselves.

Students enjoy the process of harvesting, making, and eating Confetti Salad.
Now that the Fall Harvest Classes have ended, Farmer Loretta will plant the winter and spring crops, the latter of which will have its own harvest class for Clairbourn students to enjoy.

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