The sound of children talking and playing echoes through Gardens on Green on Tuesday mornings during fall and spring.
Tuesday was no exception as 46 second-graders from McEver Arts Academy planted sweet potatoes, searched for berries and pulled worms out of the dirt.
Seven-year-old CJ Wilson was part of the group of students who came to the garden Tuesday to continue his education.
“I’ve been learning about a lot of stuff,” he said. “I’ve been learning about the life cycle of the plants and the butterflies.”
In the classroom Wilson and his classmates are learning about life cycles and studied plant and butterfly life cycles earlier this year. Second-grade teacher Mary Beth Rodriguez said those lessons tie in with the hands-on teaching approach at Gardens on Green.
The hands-on activities help students retain the information better, said Kathy Head, another program coordinator.
“For instance, in the compost, they’re touching the real dirt and pulling out the real worms and putting things in there,” she said. “Then they go to edible compost and we show them things that could be in their compost and how they could do this at home.”
It’s all part of the Hall County Master Gardeners’ educational program for elementary school students at the gardens next to Hall County Schools’ main office at 711 Green St. in Gainesville. The program teaches students about nature around them.
“The curriculum emphasizes the life cycle, and we want to enhance their learning in that area,” said Rose Barton, one of the program’s coordinators. “We do some hands-on, something that’s going to impact those children, not only their learning but their life.”
While at Gardens on Green the children rotate through five centers during their 4-hour visit. The different centers are composting, vegetable garden, pollinators, native plants garden and the nutrition center. The children make smoothies in the nutrition center using foods that could be grown locally.
“We try to tie the whole thing into why do you need this vegetable garden and what can be done with it,” Barton said. “And ‘Why do we need pollinators?’ because vegetable gardens won’t grow the fruits that we need. So it’s all kind of tied in together.”
The program is in its 10th year, according to program coordinators. When it began, the same students visited the garden each week. Now about 600 to 1,000 students visit the gardens each year for one 4-hour block, allowing more students the opportunity to visit the garden throughout the year. The groups of students begin visiting the gardens the second week of school and continue through the end of October. The program picks up again in April and continues through May.
Students learn the same lessons throughout the year, but the items planted and harvested, as well as the butterflies available, change by season.
“We’re either planting or harvesting,” Head said. “Right now, we’re doing both, planting cold crops and harvesting sweet potatoes.”
Aaden Sanabria was holding a sweet potato he dug up Tuesday. He said before coming to the garden he’d never harvested a sweet potato and didn’t know where they came from.
Sanabria’s favorite part of the day was the life cycles center. He and his classmates saw a monarch butterfly chrysalis. Then they make a craft showing the various stages of a butterfly’s life: from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.
Earlier this year, Barton went to Florida and retrieved the monarch eggs for students to study in life cycles. Once the chrysalis becomes butterflies, the monarchs are released. It’s an almost
Barton and Head are retired school teachers who volunteer at Gardens on Green. Head works to coordinate the program with schools while Barton coordinates garden volunteers.
“It’s a great way to use your teaching skills but in a different format,” Head said. “It’s so much nicer to be outside and see the excitement in kids when you release the butterfly or you find a caterpillar or egg.”
At minimum, 10 volunteers assist students at the gardens, but as many as 15-20 can be on hand for larger groups.
As of now half of the elementary schools in the county are able to come to the gardens each year.
Head said they’d like to find enough volunteers to host classes another day of the week to allow the rest of the area schools to participate.