When Eshleman Elementary School was closed last year, students were unable to work on the school’s community gardens – one of the most popular hands-on learning activities that was lost to the pandemic.
So when it came time to replant the gardens this school year, Eshleman third-grade teachers decided to expand the activity into a full week of lessons tied to the gardens, biology and ecology.
Held April 12 through 16, Plant Week included lessons on the life cycles of plants, germination, photosynthesis and pollination. Students also got to dissect and identify plant and seed parts and observe the daily progression of lima bean seeds growing in bags taped to the classroom windows.
Teachers Caitlan Tran and Kim Garvey incorporated language arts into the week’s activities by reading and discussing Wangari’s Trees of Peace, a true story of how environmentalist Wangari Maathai helped reverse deforestation in Kenya.
As a tie-in to the book, they challenged students to build the tallest free-standing trees they could, using only pipe cleaners, tape and paper.
“It was an amazing week filled with tons of hands-on activities and a lot of content learned,” said Tran. “Our biggest motivation for doing this was that we wanted to get the kids outside and working hands-on. This year has been hard on everyone, and we all needed to have a little fun.”
The garden beds got a much-needed rehab after a year of neglect.
Students weeded them, added soil and fertilizer and planted spinach, lettuce and radishes. They learned how to read seed packets and plotted out estimated germination and harvest dates on a calendar. They also planted green beans and carrots in the classroom to be transplanted to the garden beds in mid-May.
In Garvey’s classroom, students dissected daffodils and built terrariums.
“One student told me after the activity that they did not realize that every part of the plant was important and that the plants had babies,” she said. “This is what hands-on learning does for kids.”
The garden project will culminate later in the school year with the sharing of garden-fresh salads and spinach smoothies.
“Even though we live in Lancaster County, some kids have never planted anything or gardened before,” Tran said. “Seeing how excited they were to experience the process was eye-opening.”