Planting Seeds, Sowing the Future

By Erika Borg

Gardening classes are a great way for kids to learn about the environment, nutrition and ecology. And if dirt is involved, you know kids are going to love it. Several local schools offer gardening as part of an integrated curriculum, and after-school programs and private classes also are available throughout the Bay Area.

Green thumbs are getting smaller as kidsí garden programs take root.
Tiny seed becomes tender stalk, sprouting leaves and flowers. Gardening is a fascinating pursuit that provides children with an intimate look at the cycles of nature and gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. Plus, itís fun. A growing number of Bay Area gardening programs, public gardens and gardening experts offer kids a chance to experience the pleasures of gardening.

San Franciscoís Backyard Garden
A natural starting place for families interested in gardening together is Strybing Arboretum in Plant your own "sipping garden"!

Learn to plant your own "Sipping Garden" in
Growing a Garden One Seed at a Time

Golden Gate Park, which serves as a backyard garden for hundreds of San Francisco families. The arboretum provides a public garden, where parents can introduce their children to plants from around the world and where kids can watch things grow. Annette Huddle, a Strybing youth coordinator, encourages parents to bring their kids and explore the interconnection of flora and fauna. She suggests going down the different paths, going into the redwood grove and visiting the ponds with frogs, turtles and birds.

To get a sense of plants that are native in far-flung areas, yet flourish in San Francisco, Huddle recommends exploring more exotic areas such as the New Zealand collection and the New World Cloud Forest Garden that features passion vines, fuchsias and dahlias found in Chiapas, Mexico. You can let your kids sneak along little trails, run along the demonstration-garden and find their favorite places.

To encourage families to get involved in gardening, the arboretum hosts a family storytime and guided childrenís walk through the garden on the first and third Sundays of the month. The arboretum also offers family gardening days throughout the summer (see the Resource Box for days and times) as well as classes for adults.

Be sure to visit Strybingís reading room and library, which is filled with books on horticulture and includes an extensive childrenís section.

Schools Cultivating Gardening Classes

Garden education has come a long way since the days when kindergartners planted seeds in Dixie cups along windowsills. Largely because of the support of former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastinís "A Garden in Every School Initiative," the Bay Area has become fertile ground for garden-based education and programs that encourage children to get dirty in the name of learning.

Several schools including the Nueva School in Hillsbourgh, the Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm in Santa Rosa and King Middle School in Berkeley have given their school gardens a central role in their educational philosophy. In fact, the Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School, created in part with Berkeley restaurateur Alice Waters, has become a model for schools across the country to combine gardening with education and nutrition.

The relationship between food and gardening delights Summerfield Waldorf School parent Amy Welp. Her third- and fifth-graders are part of the schoolís garden and farm programs, where interactive lessons teach them about the natural world through projects such as creating Lavender Wands and harvesting squash for a cooking lesson showcasing homemade squash soup.

"They get to see how every little thing they do effects the world," Welp says.

The same values are behind the Nueva Schoolís gardening program, which uses garden- based learning as a foundation for children to document and explore not only the garden but their own growth. Through her company, Growing Green, Bonnie Wood works with Nueva School parents to create sustainable school gardens. Wood is trying to increase garden education offered in San Francisco schools while encouraging parents to be the caretakers of school gardens.

"Research has indicated that children learn best in a multisensory environment, if you link learning to more than just the visual, you end up with this powerful social-emotional connection," Wood says.

With that in mind, Wood also holds workshops to lead parents through all the steps of creating a successful garden and through two weeks of garden activities that focus on topics such as taxonomy and orienteering. She stresses that the same lessons can be useful to parents seeking to create a learning environment in their home back yards.

Gardening Programs Crop Up After School
Even if you are not ready to move your child to a school with a garden-based curriculum, a variety of after-school programs can ensure that your child gains knowledge in the garden and has a blast. A county cooperative extension office can put you in touch with after school-programs such as 4-H and Junior Master Gardeners.

Marilyn Johns, a 4-H youth development adviser with the San Mateo-San Francisco County University of California Cooperative Extension program has spent much of her adult life getting kids into the garden. She says the best way to encourage kids in gardening is get them involved in the beginning, when the garden is still just an idea.

She created a program called Teams with InterGenerational Support, a 30-lesson plan that connects hands-on vegetable gardening with nutrition and the community. The program was first used by the Pacifica 4-H club in combination with a Pacifica senior center to get kids and seniors working together. Since its publication, more than 2,000 copies have been distributed through San Mateoís County Cooperative Extension office in Half Moon Bay.

In the North Bay, Point Reyes kids work in Ruth Lopezís summer gardening classes, which she runs out of her back yard. Lopez, a horticulturist who created the online gardening catalog "Growing Gardens for Growing People," offers weekly lessons in gardening and other fun activities like the Caterpillars to Butterflies game in which children form a human caterpillar and go through the garden eating edible flowers, leaves and herbs.

Her Web site can supply visitors with items such as child-sized gardening tools and theme seed packets complete with educational activity pages to create butterfly gardens or grow a garden full of miniature vegetables. She began the catalog more than a decade ago when she was inspired to get her own young children into the garden.

"I started having kids and began to see the garden as a really incredible learning environment," Lopez says. "Itís learning disguised as fun."

California 4-H Youth Development Program

Marin County 4-H

Sonoma County 4-H

Gardens for Growing People

Growing Green

Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is free to the public and open 365 days a year. For registration and additional information, call the youth education office at 415-661-1316 x307.

Bean Sprout Family Garden Days are scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Mondays July 14, 28 and Aug. 11. Preschool Explorer Garden Days are set for 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. July 17, July 31 and Aug. 14.

Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm