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A classroom without walls

The role of gardening in Waldorf education

 Through your own experience or stories told by your children, you probably know that being outside is large part of the Waldorf curriculum from Kindergarten on up. What’s not readily apparent is the significance of the children’s activities outside. From watering seeds to feeding chickens to pulling English Ivy off trees, children are moving with purpose.

A conversation with our Gardening Teacher Rebecca Johnson and Grade 4 Teacher and Grounds Committee member Jenny Dilworth revealed how engrained gardening is at WSA, and how it contributes to the children’s education. Fundamentally, gardening is one way we prepare our children for the future.

Growing cucumbers and careers

We’re in an age in which careers as we know them may well be obsolete when our students are of age to begin their own professions. The garden teaches fundamental skills that will help children navigate such uncertainty: flexibility, responsiveness, tolerance, and adaptability.

Teaching them these things through nature serves another purpose; namely, they’re a part of things – connected with the world around them. Accordingly, they gain an understanding that their decisions affect others. And they learn these lessons often without having to be expressly taught. For example, if they don’t water seedlings enough, then the seeds won’t grow so well.

On this and other levels, the children are developing their connection with the world by being in it and interacting with it. “Most fundamentally,” says Rebecca, “They’re learning that you are needed in this world. And what you do really matters.”

Grade by grade, row by row

The classroom learning throughout the WSA curriculum echoes clearly in the garden. Rebecca, working with the classes and their teachers, leads the learning through the grades.

  • Grades 1 and 2 abound in natural wonder. Stories and garden games fittingly fill gardening time as does exploration. When students are ready, they’re given jobs along with guidance on how to behave in the garden – how you walk, talk, and interact.
  • Grade 3 finds the children ready for more work-based relationships with garden. They become responsible for a majority of planting and maintenance. Connections with the natural world are strengthened by growing, harvesting, and cooking crops. “It’s very real for them,” says Jenny, “and their actions in the garden teach them what they’re capable of doing.”
  • Grades 4 and 5 cover many natural classroom connections with the garden. Through study of local geography, flora and fauna, and botany, gardening takes on an added dimension. The children expand on their jobs, taking on more responsibility and exercising greater independence through campus-wide activities like removing English Ivy and clearing space for the bees.

“In the world, there are vacuums,” shares Rebecca. “The students learn that they’re capable of filling them by using their skills and by simply being who they are. The sooner we can teach children the beautiful relationship we have with the natural world, the better off we’ll be.”

The bees are coming – everybody, look buzzy!

This spring, WSA will welcome bees to our community. When exactly? The bees are expected mid to late April. “It’s a matter of bringing them in when they’re ready according to their natural cycle, not unlike a pregnancy,” says Jenny with a smile. “We just have to be flexible – and that’s one of the lessons we learn from nature.”

The apiaries will strengthen kids’ connections to nature. And the new residents will provide parallels to the classroom curriculum – ancient Egypt, honey, history, and ecosystems to name a few.

~Derek Hambrick

This article was written for the Waldorf School of Atlanta‘s 2015 Garden Breeze Special Edition.  For more information about our school, please visit http://www.waldorfatlanta.org.

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