The garden at Chemainus Elementary Community School is starting to come alive. With the arrival of spring, students and teachers are pulling out their green thumbs and using them to turn the soil and plant fresh seeds.
Situated at the top of a grassy hill in full summer sun, the fenced-in garden was started in 2008 as a collaborative effort by the school, the school district, the school’s parent advisory committee, parent volunteers, and the Chemainus Crofton Community Schools Association. Since then, many classes plus the Eagle Wings Preschool, which is run by the CCSA, have been involved in growing and maintaining the garden. Even Communities in Bloom was involved by way of Marion Hawkins, a dedicated and knowledgeable "Garden Grandie".
This year, an after school program called Green Thumb Kidz is also enjoying the privilege of having access to the school’s garden. Green Thumb Kidz is an eight week long garden club run by CCSA for primary students of Chemainus Elementary. The CCSA is an incorporated not-for-profit society, governed by a volunteer board composed of community members and school personnel. It provides programs, services, resources, and support for community members of all ages, with or without children, in the local public school system.
Each Friday afternoon for 90 minutes, the 11 garden club members learn about soil, composting, growing vegetables and how to harvest them. The children also enjoy the best part of the garden – eating the food.
"I was amazed when my son came home after the first day," said Suzanne Demeter, whose son is in Grade 1. "He had a bag of greens he had picked himself, and he went to the fridge and picked out some vegetables and an apple. I cut them for him and he made a salad and ate the whole thing."
Recently, the children planted lettuce and onion starts, as well as seeding cabbage in containers to take home to plant in their home gardens. On discovery of how to use the bright blue, pumphandle water spout, the children needed no prompts to begin watering the already available rhubarb, herbs and fast growing strawberries, peas, and potatoes. The coming weeks will bring activities like rock painting, flower pressing and nature mandalas. A mandala is a circle, and the circle is comprised of decoratively arranged twigs, rocks, flowers, feathers, pine cones, and other objects collected from nature.
Teachers and parents volunteer over the summer to maintain the crops. Starting in September, students of the elementary school will enjoy learning to cook with potatoes, carrots, squash, and kale – all grown with their own hands.
Not only is the garden activity an all around enjoyable experience for the children, but it also addresses some of the health, social studies and life science provincial learning outcomes which cover healthy eating and physical activity, learning how individuals contribute to a community and describing how plants are used and harvested throughout the season.
Underneath all the garden learning, the children are fertilized with the goodness of teamwork, friendship and fun. Vegetables and worms help to teach provincial learning outcomes of social and emotional literacy, too.
Jessica Barker is an instructor at the CCSA and currently leads the Garden Club Kidz.