A New Education

Encourage exploration, growth, curiosity and independence in a hands-on, minds-on learning environment!

Master Gardeners are Your Greatest Resource

I feel as though I have fallen off the face of the technological planet.  Graduate school has kept me incredibly busy and sadly, my duties as a blogger have fallen to the wayside.  I have however been keeping notes surrounding things that I would like to write about and tonight, have made a vow to myself to write at least once a week no matter my hectic schedule.

In addition to obtaining my M.Ed, I am working toward three certificates, one if which is becoming a Master Gardener.  Before beginning the training last Tuesday, I attended a gardening workshop for teachers two months ago.  Teachers were there from all over the Western Washington range with classroom gardens ranging from non-existent to elaborate; chickens and all.

One piece of incredibly valuable information that the successful schools shared with the beginners though is the untapped resource of your local master gardeners.  Master Gardeners are volunteers at heart.  They are blending their love for gardening with their love for volunteer work and giving that wealth of knowledge to the community FOR FREE.  They are generally a group of retired, incredibly friendly and helpful individuals (besides me of course, I am far from retiring).  After listening to the introductions this past Tuesday from the new batch of King County Master Gardener volunteers, I have become more aware of people who have the same passion as mine, which is why I am writing here tonight.  They have a passion for introducing students to the world of gardening through classroom, hands-on, minds-on science activities surrounding soil health and nutrition, vegetable, annual and perennial growing techniques and the creation of a well-rounded and fun learning experience in a school environment.  These individuals are dying to get into schools and begin working with teachers and their students.  That is where the teachers come in, if you are dying for a garden, call the Master Gardener volunteer hotline and tell them about what you would like and where you are located.  They can share that with their volunteers and hopefully, find you a good match.

I am sharing this information because there are Master Gardeners in almost every community.  If you looked, I am quite certain that you could find one.  There are many teachers out there who would love to have a classroom garden, no matter its size but don’t have the first clue on how to get started.  It turns out, all you need are fund-raising abilities, determination, a few parent volunteers, a Life Lab curriculum book for your grade level and a master gardener!

…And maybe one day you and your students will enjoy chickens!  🙂

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Creating a Nation of Healthy Children

Let me begin with a personal story.  I have been passionate about this topic for quite some time but didn’t feel motivated to write about it here until I took a trip to the grocery store yesterday.  After reading ALL of Michael Pollan’s books and watching all of the documentaries dealing with food and health, including Food Inc., which I recommend to everyone, I have learned how to shop.  I try to purchase produce based on the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen, (a system that instructs buyers on what produce they absolutely need to buy organic based on it’s toxicity levels and what is not necessary if you are shopping frugally) and I try to shop around the edge of the store.  Think about the edge of every grocery store you have been in; you have your produce, fresh baked breads, and meat and fish.  These are the foods which are the most fresh and have been produced with the least amount of ingredients.

I wanted to make a delicious vegetarian stir-fry and was in need of organic bell peppers, I found the most beautiful yellow pepper and looked up to an astronomical number… $9.98/pound.  I weighed my perfect pepper and found that it weighed just below a half a pound.  That meant that one bell pepper would have cost $5.00.  Now imagine that you have children, are a teacher shopping on a budget as you make between 25,000 and 60,000 depending on your education and experience and need to make a meal for your children.  We are making it absolutely impossible for people to create a healthy meal for themselves, free of toxic chemicals on a budget.  It is much easier to go to the center of the store and buy 4 bags of processed chips and a liter of soda for that same $5.00.  The obesity epidemic is not just about watching what you eat and exercising, it is about educating others and making healthy foods accessible to everyone, no matter their socioeconomic status.

NPR (Recent NPR story that links obesity not only to health but to an uneducated, unemployed nation.)

Obesity is on the rise in our country at an alarming rate.  With technology coming at us from all angles now the coverage on it is just as vast and becoming more in your face as the problem grows.  Jamie Oliver traveled to the United States to help our public school food system, who are a huge part of the problem.  They are being bogged down by budgets and the rules of the district and are choosing ease and quantity over quality.  The Food Revolution, which Jamie Oliver stars in, allows us to see the behind the scene problems that schools and families are facing with a bit of cable drama mixed in.

In addition to what is being seen nationwide, others are taking a more serious approach.  Documentaries are being made regularly dealing with obesity and more specifically, childhood obesity.  Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat is one documentary dealing with the issue.  It is well made and very informational.  It does not say any more than a Michael Pollan book but the images will remain emblazoned in your mind forever.  The opening scene of the movie is hard to watch but is a truth for many American children.

My interest lies in educating children about the problems that they are facing and will be dealing with as adults.  If the elementary school in the town that Jamie Oliver was in had a school garden that the children built, planted, and maintained, they would most certainly know the difference between a potato and a tomato.  Not only that, but if the students were able to harvest the foods and turn them into beautiful items for consumption, they would understand how food is made and would begin to ask questions for themselves about the food that is available in grocery stores.

To make a difference:

  • Join Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
  • Petition your school district to make changes in their school lunches
  • Educate yourself and make that information accessible to your community
  • Plant a community garden
  • Help your local school build a garden or if you have a child in school, help their class start a garden and bring in “experts” from the community.  Most communities have master gardeners that are REQUIRED to complete a certain amount of community service hours and would love to work with children.  Contact them!
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A School Garden

This post is especially close to my heart as I spent my three years of middle school attending this public institution.  I was a Peterson Pirate!  As I reflect back at my school experience it was similar to any other middle school experience.  We attended class, sat, took tests, ate lunch (a very bad concoction of frozen pizza, etc… ), and bussed home.  I do remember an especially engaging 6th grade science class where 4 students were chosen to participate in a “special project”, but that was only 4 students out of an entire class.

While perusing the Life Labs blog this morning I discovered something amazing that literally brought tears to my eyes and I called my mom immediately.  Peterson has morphed into an incredible example of what a public school can do when they are dedicated.  They have created close ties with Full Circle Farm, (the link is below) and have created a nature studies center behind their school, complete with multiple bird viewing areas, a marsh, a series of web cams, and nature area curriculum.

The Full Circle project, which is a very recent endeavor, is a big thanks to Democracy in action.  The School Board was deciding what to do with the field behind Peterson Middle School and after much deliberation, decided to lease it to the farm.  The farm has started an educational component and has created a very unique relationship with the Santa Clara School District.  They are working with students of all ages, educating them in gardening, horticulture, and ecology, and helping them make healthy food choices that are free of pesticides and chemicals.

Please click below to visit the Full Circle Farms website or to view the story of the farm in the making:

Video: Full Circle Farm


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The Impact of Service-Learning

An Islandwood employee showed us this video a few weeks back and I cannot get the image of this young boy collecting water for natural disaster victims out of my mind.  His instinctual generosity is so beautiful.  Since then, I have been researching service-learning and it’s benefits on school aged children.  Many schools have already recognized the positive role that service-learning plays in the student’s lives and have implemented it as a prerequisite for graduation.  The Chicago school district, which is the 3rd largest district in the nation, just behind L.A and New York City, requires that its high school students complete 40 hours of community service before receiving their diploma.  Their struggle comes from defining what constitutes service-learning.  With the positive impact that it can have in the child’s life and in the lives of the people they are helping, I believe that it is a term worth defining.

If you are an educator who would like to get your class involved in your community there are many programs out there to help you get the funding that you might need to get started.  It is never too early to start.  A five year old child can recognize things in their community that they would like to improve.  Please share any stories or ideas that you have for classroom service-learning projects so that we can learn from others about how to improve the lives of others while enriching the lives of our students!


(This is a link to Learn and Serve America, which has grants available for classrooms who are beginning a service-learning project!)

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Forest Kindergartens!

I stumbled across this story and was so excited about this school’s mission to instill natural creativity, fine motor skills and social interaction in this amazing environment.  These 3-5 year old students in Saratoga Springs, NY spend three hours a day outside rain or shine!  This is an excellent model for the direction that education could be heading if parents,teachers and tax payers demanded reform.

In using the word reform I realize how truly obscure that word is these days.  It has been thrown around in the press and in politics so much that I feel it may have lost some of its meaning along the way.  There are many uses of the word reform but I feel the most important one and the meaning that came up first when I looked up the word is, “to form again”.  To form again is such a simple phrase encompassing such a large task.  It does not mean to amend or make changes to.  It very clearly states that we must start from scratch, get back to the drawing board so to speak and brainstorm an education where children will learn, understand and gain a deeper meaning of the world around them while developing meaningful relationships and engaging in positive social interactions.

There are many other schools taking the initiative, we can make it happen!  If you know of another school that is shaping a new education, please share it!


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In Nature!

As I wander through the Red Cedars, Douglas Firs, Big Leaf Maples and Hemlocks of the NW region with my designated group of 5th graders, I consistently hear the same questions, “what is that?”, “why doesn’t that tree lose it’s leaves?”, and “EWWWW, what is it doing?”  The majority of these 5th graders have hidden their vulnerability and childlike curiosity and at Islandwood it is stirred up in them in a way that it hasn’t been in a long time.  Children want to know and understand the natural world around them.  They especially want to know the names of species and how they work with each other.  Introducing nature to children is not only teaching them about their natural surroundings but it is also teaching them how to live well and work well with others through concepts of biodiversity and ecosystems.  It is the perfect introduction into lessons about tolerance and even better… acceptance and understanding.  This introduction can be made early and that is what authors like Richard Louv and David Sobel are encouraging.

As I wander, I become curious as to why we don’t begin making this introduction sooner.  Why does reading, social studies, and mathematics have to be taught solely in the classroom?  Why do we separate nature and education?  I am beginning to think that it is out of convenience and laziness rather than the belief that we are making a difference.  We talk about interdisciplinary learning but can you imagine a classroom of students learning about measurements, addition and subtraction and multiplication while working in a garden?  Imagine a group of kindergartners who, while simply planting tomatoes, green beans and garlic, are learning their letters through the “edible alphabet”, a term that I have coined that I believe would be the best way to introduce phonetics as well as counting.  In addition to those curriculum driven concepts they would very directly begin to understand that their food comes from the ground rather than a shelf at the supermarket and that with their hands, they are capable of caring for themselves in a way that they may have never dreamed possible.

I suggest that teachers, day care providers, parents and grandparents purchase every species book that you can get your hands on that addresses your specific region.  Pick up books on plants, trees, birds, mammals, fish and moss and go for a walk with your toddlers, 5 year olds and 8 year olds and discover the magic that is all around you.  Have them feel the amazing soft texture of the Red Cedars and play with the moss that attaches itself to branches and rocks.  I love it when they begin to understand that while they can’t see any houses… there are homes all around them.  They will fall in love with the simplicity of the inhabitants of their local parks, playgrounds and trails in a new and different way.  I encourage you to teach them the names of the different species so that they can feel attached to all of the living things around them.  As they develop a love for their direct surroundings it will foster a love for all living things so that when they are called to protect the forests that are not in their direct region, they will understand the need for urgency rather than feeling overwhelmed at the task.

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Philosophy with kids!

Welcome!!!  This blog will contain resources, book ideas, gardening, compost info and much, much more!  Comments are not only welcome but appreciated!  I hope that this can become a place where ideas are shared, used and executed to make every teacher the best teacher they can be for their students!

Recently I have been reading an amazing book by Marietta McCarty titled “Little Big Minds”.  It offers great insight and easy to use, hands on activities for teachers of all grades, (especially at the elementary level) to use with their class.  The book introduces concepts of philosophy to children in a way that is tangible for them.  What I find most amazing about this book is that while it may be introducing ideas of philosophy, it really is teaching the most basic principles that encourage strong interpersonal and social skills.  It introduces ideas such as love, courage, death, justice and responsibility, using philosophers as the jumping point to get kids thinking about their own moral code.  Beginning these activities and having these philosophical discussions on the first day of school will help build a supportive classroom where students are held accountable for their actions.

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