At Kindlehill School located in the semi-rural setting within the Blue Mountains area, it is usual to find students playing inside a pea teepee, eating and picking peas and beans from the living structure. Located in a beautiful setting of Wentworth Falls, Kindlehill is a relatively small school of 110 students, from kindergarten to Year 10, which embraces the Rudolph Steiner philosophy for education.
If you’re keen to get a garden growing at your school, gardener Steve Fleischmann, who works in the playground patch at Kindlehill, has the following advice:
Choose easy-to-grow plants such as lots of herbs along with hardy plants the kids can munch on – edible flowers, peas, sprouting broccoli. Quick-growing plants – such as radishes, bush beans and lettuce – are also a good option for (almost) instant gratification.
Kids – particularly the younger ones – are likely to walk on the gardens and might find it difficult to be sensitive to fragile seedlings, so always have plant more than you might need so you can allow for any mishaps. And keep in mind that not all crops will be successful. In this event, turn failures into lessons on life and death, soil pH, planting technique, influence of weeds etc.
Embrace flower power
Don’t discount the importance of including flowers in the garden. Kids enjoy picking flowers to give to their parents or teachers. Plant the right types – such as marigolds – and they’ll also help keep pests away.
Get everyone involved!
It’s important to take a multi-layered approach by having teachers, aides and parents on side to help reinforce the lessons being learnt in and around the garden, such as food production, biology, ecology, as well as practical skills like handling tools safely.
Students can snack as they please from the rambling strawberry patches that line the paths or sample mulberries, peaches, figs and apples from the many fruit trees scattered throughout the school grounds.
At the centre of that philosophy is an appreciation of the environment and connection with nature and community. As such, the school’s gardens feature prominently in the grounds and include a rooftop kitchen garden, bush tucker garden and medicinal herb garden as well as a dedicated chook pen.
Teacher and garden co-ordinator S’haila Bernard says the many garden spaces at the school have been embraced by the students and are constantly evolving and expanding.
“The gardens link really well with our sustainability mandate,”
“Learning to grow their own food gives the kids a greater connection to nature and the earth. In the process they learn how to feed themselves well and deal with waste – and know that it’s better to have a full compost than a full rubbish bin. They learn how to tread lightly on the earth and live within our means.
“It’s also a great chance for the children to get their hands dirty and learn about the whole growing process – sowing seeds, growing seedlings, planting and weeding, harvesting, then collecting and saving the seeds at the end for the next season. It shows the whole life cycle of how we eat from and give back to the earth.”
Bernard says that all students at the school are involved with growing and cooking their own food, with the help of volunteer parents. Unlike many other schools, Kindlehill has not followed a set school garden program but draws on local farmer and parent expertise where necessary.
“We did it all ourselves,” she says. “We had a biodynamic farmer come in at one point and he worked with the teachers and children to explain about the moon cycles so we are constantly learning and expanding.”
Kindlehill also recently installed its first beehive, and the children are well practiced at making their own compost. Each classroom has its own compost bay and every autumn students and parents collect leaves from local parks to add to the school heaps.
“It’s a bit like a harvest celebration and brings the whole community together to think about what we can use from the earth and give back to the earth. The compost is turned over during winter then, come spring, we get to use it on the orchard and gardens.”
Written by Kylie McGregor ABC Organic Gardener Magazine Contributor
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