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Gardens and reading come together at this Gainesville class
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Kindergarten students from McEver Arts Academy visit the Literacy Gardens at Gardens on Green next to the Hall County School District OfficeThursday, May 10, 2018, to learn about the environment, hear stories, take part in different activities and plant seeds to take home. - photo by Scott Rogers

If you're looking for a way to help your children grow in their vocabulary, and a few plants, throughout the summer, the Lovett Literacy Garden at Gardens on Green has just what you need.

Kathy Lovett, chairwoman and founder of the gardens is bringing back the Growing Readers and Gardeners program at 10 a.m. June 5, 12, 19 and 26 as well as July 10, 17 and 24 at 711 Green St. It’s free and children must be accompanied by an adult.

“We feel a strong need for children to be outdoors and for them to have an understanding of the cycle of plants in order to understand the interdependence of life and to understand where food comes from,” Lovett said. “And as far as reading is concerned, research shows that the more experience children have with words at a young age, the more likely they are to be good readers and to love reading.”

That’s why the program, in its third year, ties together reading and gardening as much as it can.

Staci Wagner’s 5-year-old son, Maddox, has been a part of the program the past couple of years. Wagner remembers last summer, when her parents took Maddox to the program, how excited he was when he came home. She said he was always ready to show her the craft he made and tell her all about the story that was read.

“The joy on his face,” Wagner said. “He would always come home and he would have the seeds they had planted to show me or the craft he did to show me and his face lit up with joy and excitement as he told me all about it. It was really neat because he was able to verbalize and articulate back to me what they had done.”

And that’s the point. Wagner, district testing coordinator with the Hall County Board of Education, said children who are read to from birth are much further ahead in their vocabulary than students who aren’t.

“When they start kindergarten, the difference in vocabulary levels is millions of words,” Wagner said. “Millions of words. So think about the catch up you’re doing as a kindergarten teacher when you have a child next to you that's been read to from the moment that they were born, versus a child who maybe gathered their language from sitting in front of a TV, but they’ve never actually been read to.”

The program is open to preschoolers through second-graders and features two different books at each program: one for the older children and one for the younger. There’s also a different theme each week.

For the June 5 program, the theme is gardening. The older children will read “Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt” while the younger children will read “Growing Vegetable Soup.”

Hall County Master Gardeners will be on hand to help teach some of the gardening aspects of the lessons while current and retired teachers will be there to help with the readings and spend time with the children.

After the readings, there’s always an activity. Sometimes it’s about things as simple as what part of the plant you sometimes eat — it’s not always what’s showing above the ground — and other times it’s about the different parts of a seed and how it sprouts and grows into a plant.

“Kids, they learn through play, they learn through doing, they learn through experiencing and touching and actually getting their hands on things,” Wagner said. “So they always try to do some hands-on activities. Actually getting their hands down in the dirt some.”

As the children read stories and learn from the different activities, they’re having fun, and for Lovett, that’s what it’s all about.

“The whole purpose is to provide a fun reading experience for the children and to provide some simple gardening activities they can learn from,” Lovett said.

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