Pulling out summer veggies takes teamwork!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall is here and we are loving it!

One of the great things about fall is apples.  Apples are a common theme for Pre-K, especially in the fall. Although our theme wasn't 'Apples,' we were talking about 'Farm Life,' so linking foods from farm to us was a topic within our theme.
This week we also had the Scholastic Book Fair, so it was impossible to plan story times, as every kid wanted me to read their new books to the class, which is great!  One of the books was about a girl that goes to an orchard to pick apples.  The book talked about different types of apples and the kids really seemed interested in these.  As I told them that 'Granny Smith' apples are more sour or tart, a child asked, "What does sour mean?"   Finding it hard to describe, other than making a puckered up face, I promised the kids we would have an apple tasting.

The next day I picked out 4 types of apples from the store.  Recalling my days as a server in fine dining, I had to indulge my 'expertise' in this category, creating a 'tasting' sheet for each child.

We discussed how each one looked and smelled.  We talked about texture, and how each person may prefer different tastes and textures.  We explored words such as tart, sour, grainy, crisp, juicy, and sweet.  The kids were tortured as I wouldn't let them taste until we talked about this, lol.  :)  The same feeling I had back in my own wine tasting/education days!

After each child tasted, they got to color in the apple outline with the color of their favorite apple.

These charts are great to introduce kids to pre-reading skills as well as math skills.  Notice how this child finds his name and is pointing at the correct apple to color.  When finished we read together each sentence.  The repetitive words help the kids gain comfort and confidence in reading, become familiar with words, colors, and symbols.  This is also a great assessment tool, as I am able to track a child's ability to find their own name, identify colors, etc.

The next day a student brought apples from an orchard he had picked with his family.  What a great learning experience he got to have with them!  A fellow teacher had an apple peeler/corer that she had just used with her class.  This is key here:  ALWAYS be respectful and courteous with coworkers...at the minimum!  You never know when they may have something helpful or useful on hand!  :)

I typically crop out my student's faces but sometimes words don't compare to their facial expressions! ( In case you're curious, parents do sign a waiver upon enrolling in our program concerning pictures anyway.)
These kind of hand-on opportunities are irreplaceable to me.  They are working on fine and gross motor skills, experiencing technology (other than smart phone apps, computers, tv, etc), and feel a sense of accomplishment. I am not saying that I have an issue with kids and computers, I don't at all.  Even I was amazed at the simplicity and practicality of this kitchen 'tool.'
How cool is that?!  A spiral apple slice!

No electricity needed!  We were able to take the lesson outside, enjoy the fall weather, make a mess, and allow the other kids to play until their turn.  A lovely way to spend our Friday afternoon.  :)

I would like to say that we were able to bake an awesome apple pie with these apples, but given it was Friday afternoon and the fact that the kids were begging to try the peeled apple 'spirals,' this was were our lesson ended.

Other exciting things, we planted 'carnival carrot' seeds in this terrarium type thing.  It is really cool.  It is clear, on wheels, has a drain/plug, and has a lid for when the cold weather comes around.

My hopes are that we can see the carrots growing down into the soil.  They grow in variety of colors too, purple, white, yellow, red, and orange!  Many lessons and predictions can be done with this!  Interesting fact, originally all carrots were purple!  As our soil's chemical make-up has changed over time (no doubt due to civilization) whatever was in the soil that made carrots purple has depleted, causing them to be orange...sorry for the lack of scientific explanation.  This is another benefit of teaching Pre-K, lol. I can tell them in basic terms...the important lesson in this, IMO,  is that our presence on earth has an impact in many ways.

We have cleared and replanted fall veggies in the garden as well.  An AWESOME parent has volunteered to build a removable greenhouse type thing, referred to in the gardening world as a 'hoop house'!  This is a relatively easy and inexpensive project, simply requiring PVC pipe, clear plastic sheeting, clips, and stakes.  Our hope is that this will enable us to extend our growing season until our pre-k family Thanksgiving celebration.  We hope to harvest and prepare food from our garden, just as the Native Americans and Pilgrims did!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Introducing gardening to 4 and 5 year olds...

There is a benefit to the new school year starting towards the end of the summer gardening season.  Although I thought that the season would end sooner, concerned with Atlanta's frost date average being Oct. 15th, I have learned that fall veggies are hardier and require cooler temps to 'germinate,' or sprout from seed.  Therefore, many in our zone plant seeds indoors during the summer and transplant outside when the temps cool down, as we don't have a very long fall growing season.  The other option, which I have found to be more common, is to buy transplants and plant when the weather cools.  This is also a better option as some fall veggie seedlings/sprouts are less tolerant of transplanting.

ANYWAY...back to the BENEFIT, lol.  Because the summer veggies were winding down, and some gone due to those evil squash vine borers, the pre-k crowd was able to explore more freely.  I wasn't AS concerned about feet stepping on vines, kids playing in the dirt, or causing damage to young, vulnerable plants.

Green beans are a familiar veg to kids, because our green beans have been in all summer, they are well established, and for some reason producing better now than ever.  They provide many opportunities for little hands to pick with ease, can be eaten raw (less work for me!), and are about ready to be removed.
My hard workers, picking green beans.

 The corn had also been harvested during the second week of school, and the kids really enjoyed sneaking and hiding among the tall corn stalks.
Sadly, we did lose our one watermelon to an overly zealous harvester, picked way too early.  We used this as  a lesson by cutting it open.  The class was able to look inside and see that there was very little red inside, not what we want to see when eating a slice of watermelon.  We have also lost a couple tomatoes, as they were confused with green apples!  It's frustrating, but hard to get too upset, as they are soooo excited to show me what they picked from the garden!  I say this now, but if one comes running up to me with an almost ripe cantaloupe that I have been nursing along...well...it may not be so pretty...hehe.
Our last harvest of cucumbers provided us a 'cooking'  experience, as we made another batch of pickles.  Along pre-k standards, this provided kids with exposure to components of a recipe, measuring (math), taking turns/teamwork (social/emotional,) and vocabulary.

Harvesting the corn was also great fun for the kids, as they were free to shuck away!  More motor skill development, and an opportunity to feel new textures, and be a part of the preparation process.  This activity hadn't even occurred to me till we were picking the corn, for some reason.  It kept them independently occupied for a good period of time!  Always a plus in Pre-K!  :)

Fall planning is now underway.  The task feels a bit overwhelming at the moment.  Tearing out the old will be fun, but prepping the soil, and planting is another story.  At this age, the lure of swings and tricycles nearby can easily deter their attention, and smaller groups are necessary.  Due to economy and budgeting, each pre-k has 2 additional students.  It may not sound like much, but boy, do we feel it!  Up until now, I have simply invited kids to explore and harvest during our regular outside time.  However, real lessons are planned for planting the new veggies and seeds.  This involvement will also instill more respect and pride for the garden, a realization that we must be careful and take great care in how we maneuver though the garden.  We have spacing to think about, seed depth, etc.  Also, where to plant what plants/seeds, how to divide gardening opportunities with the 2 other pre-k classes, finding time to plan, and do all the other mundane, but necessary paperwork and daily tasks.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Amazing discovery reveals to us nature's balance...

I had noticed that our small sweet pepper plants were missing some leaves.  Being that it is very accessible to little hands, and we have a new batch of 66 pre-k kids using this playground, I figured that the leaves were getting picked off by the kids.  We also had very heavy rain from tropical storm Lee.  Most of the plants have slowed in production, which is fine as we are about to switch to fall veggies.

During our outside time yesterday, L. and I were doing our usual garden inspection.  L. is one of my kids that consistently checks the garden as soon as we get outside, gotta love it!  With his handy bucket, L proceeded to fill it with a large harvest of green beans.  As I inspected our pepper plants, I stumbled upon something awesome that I had learned about when researching beneficial and harmful garden insects.  I find this subject particularly fascinating, as I have learned that certain types of plants can be planted to attract insects that will combat the bad guys. This falls into a category referred to as companion planting, I will get into more details in a future post, but this is definitely a HUGE part of our future gardening plans.  A great example of a balanced ecosystem.  A great way to draw in the kids attention, keep them interested, and encourage them to look more closely, more often.

Anyway, here it is, finding this guy in our garden actually makes me feels like I have achieved something, like I am moving up my personal, (imaginary) levels of 'gardener status,' lol.
Horn worm, with parasitic wasp cocoons!

Cool!  This guy was on a stem of one of our pepper plants.  Horn worms are known to do some serious damage in gardens.  They can quickly eat through many leaves before one even realizes there is a problem.  Their markings are beautiful, and they camouflage easily on plants.  They turn into a large moth, the sphinx moth I believe, though there may easily be wider range of varieties.  At this point, I am happy to have known it was a 'horn worm with parasitic wasps!'

Now, about parasitic wasps.  These guys are AWESOME!  We spotted a small wasp over the summer KILLING a caterpillar, and then flying off with it.  The boys LOVED that!  The other more incredible thing about whatever type of parasitic wasp this is, is that they lay their eggs inside horn worms!  The worm becomes the 'host' for the eggs, when the eggs hatch, they eat the insides of the horn worm, then chew out of it and create a cocoon on the horn worm's body!  Ewww, right!?  Gotta love mother nature's pest control methods! :)  After showing this guy to the pre-k kids, I stayed later to show the after-school kids, since many of them were with me over the summer.  We were all fascinated.  I explained that if we find horn worms, we would remove them from the garden.  But, because this one has eggs on it, we want to keep it in our garden.  This will allow the population of good guys to thrive and protect our plants!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Those aren't cucumbers, they're pickles!

It's been a hectic past couple of weeks!  Now, thanks to new kids and new germs, I am home sick.  At least I can finally get caught up on some blogging.

As I promised in a previous post, we had to make pickles due to comments from kids that what we had growing were pickles, NOT cucumbers, lol.  :)  It's amazing (and a bit disturbing) how far we as a society are removed from the process of gardening and how veggies and fruits grow.

During my last week with summer camp, we finally had enough ripe cukes at once to make pickles.  This was a 'wing it' activity, as I have never made pickles before and of course, did not try it out ahead of time.  The aspect of 'canning' was definitely NOT an option.  I know nothing about that stuff, and it takes months, as well as an array of unhandy supplies to can foods.  Luckily, I found a recipe for 'refrigerator pickles.'  Here is a link to the recipe:  Refrigerator Pickles

The great thing about this recipe is that it only takes 3 days in the fridge and they are ready to eat!  The other thing about it is, it doesn't have a bunch of ingredients or time consuming processes, as canning does.  The basic ingredients: cucumbers, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic, and dill.
We began by going over the ingredients in the recipe.  The kids had to smell each ingredient, lol.  Which was fun...vinegar?  Garlic?  Sure, take a big sniff!  Many commented that the vinegar smelled like Easter eggs.

On this day, we had 30 kids, between the ages of 6 and 7.  This activity really held their interest well, even though not each kid was able to do an action.  Looking back, I could have done the same activity in 2 groups.    Yet, summer camp is very hectic and hard to plan for, never knowing how many kids, juggling field trips, etc.

The kids were amazed by the inside of the cucumber and all of the seeds.  I explained that each seed, if later planted would grow into another cucumber plant, thus providing us with many more cucumbers, and then many, many more seeds.
I tried to crop this pic, but couldn't find it, I swear I am wearing a skort, lol, shorts are underneath!
I picked kids that were sitting quietly and raising their hand to add ingredients.

We added the cucumbers, garlic, and dill to the container.  Then added the other ingredients to the pot.  The ingredients in the pot had to be boiled then cooled to room temperature.  Therefore, we finished off the activity later in the afternoon.

We also did a chart, each kid predicting whether they would or would not like the pickles.  Three days later, the pickles were ready!  I was worried and honestly, a bit scared to try one.  But, they were perfect!  Nice and crisp with a good balance of saltiness and tartness.  We had enough for each kid to have a couple as well as all the teachers.  The teachers liked them better than the kids and many requested the recipe.  Some of the kids didn't want to taste them. I had hoped that because they were so involved with so much of the process...from cucumber seed to pickle...that they would more apt to give it a try.  Well...not so much the case, until I pulled out the camera to take pics of the kids that were tasting!  Then, everyone had to try one, lol.  Whatever works!

Later that day we went back to the chart and filled in the column for "Did you like the pickles."  Unfortunately I did not get a picture of the chart, but 5 kids liked them that predicted they would not.  Pretty cool!  I have already done this activity again with my new pre-k crowd, and it has also been a hit.  I highly recommend this for any age, and don't forget, even if you don't have a garden, you can still make your own pickles!  :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Last week with summer camp was a harvest hit! Yet, bittersweet...

Well, due to thunderstorms, field trips and heat advisories, we were kept off the playground for most of the week.  Finally, last Friday morning we made it outside.  I was pretty concerned that many of the plants in the squash family would be done.  Because of the weather, and outright chaos of a drastic increase in students and my assistant leaving, I barely had a chance to breath, let alone spray pesticides.

As I counted heads passing through the door, my dedicated little gardeners ran ahead to see the garden.  They were back before I finished counting!  "OMG, Ms. Caitlin!  You gotta come see!"  I was in awe of how much had grown in such a few days, and everything looked healthy!
This my absolute favorite picture so far!  I love how these 3 are stacked up over each other, discovering 3 cantaloupes!  I was concerned about the cantaloupes as (after planted of course) I read that it is not recommended to plant them that time of year.  I guess it depends on how long they takes to ripen, but we have a good 2 months, at least...based on the average October 15th frost.  The other thing I love about this pic is the boy in the background, standing straight and tall, gazing up at the corn...too cute!

Speaking of corn, the kids had an ah-ha moment, so excited to spot the tassels (hairs) in the stalks!

It's hard to see from the picture, but M is pointing at the 'hairs.'  It hit me that this was an 'ah-ha' moment for many of the kids.  The corn was now showing something a few of them had seen on corn-on-the-cob.  Finally this plant called corn was producing something they could relate too.  WE have also learned how corn pollinates.  The top part of the stalk produces flecks of 'pollen' (don't know technical term) that fall down into the baby cobs, causing them to pollinate, planting the corn in blocks rather than a single row greatly enhances the chances of pollination, with the help of wind. We planted 3 rows with 3 seeds in each row...a lesson in multiplication!  :)

The cucumbers were also a hit as we found 4 ripe.  Yay! We have enough to make pickles!  We also dug deep into our green bean bushes to find a handful for harvesting.

Having the garden along the chain link fence has proven to allow easy access as well as additional trellising for our vining plants.

The cantaloupes have really taken to growing on the fence.  We will have to keep an eye on the stems to be sure the weight of the cantaloupes don't cause them harm.  Nylon hose "hammocks" may be in order in their near future!  :)
One cantaloupe can be seen peeking from behind the bottom right leaf.

Finally, we had a red tomato!  I read online that tomatoes will stay green when temps don't get below 70, well that's been very true of the extreme heat we have been having.  This particular tomato was hidden under other toms and much foliage.  This turned into an on-the-spot discussion about why that particular tomato ripened first.  The kids picked up quickly on the fact this it was more shaded and therefore cooler.  We expanded more on this once inside as I explained that my tomatoes at home have been ripening throughout the summer.  I drew a picture of how my garden backs up to a privacy fence built in a north-south direction.  I drew a east-west line over the fence/garden, showing how the sun rises and sets across the garden, getting half as much sunlight.  The kids that were still paying attention by this point understood very well, lol.

This marked my last day with these kids, as pre-k planning has now begun.  Time to transition towards some fall garden items as well.  I really hope that whomever the after-school teacher will be, will continue to use the garden as a tool for learning, as she will have many of the same kids I had this summer.  They may leave her with no choice, as their excitement grows with each new veggie in our garden! :)

It has been a hectic past couple of weeks, when I get a chance I will also be adding posts about our pickling experience, the corn stalk graph, as well as graphing the growth of our watermelon verses cantaloupe through measuring their circumferences.  Stay tuned!
Garden, end of July, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Feeling defeated...

I guess we have hit the second round of the dreaded SVB's.  This time they hit our precious Giant Pumpkin plant.  :(  I was planning some great activities with these:  measuring the circumference to follow it's rate of growth, comparisons with the watermelons growth, more predictions, etc.  A real 'wow' factor for the kids.  Our diligence in  hunting/removing the eggs is not enough.  Upon finding a different insect the other day and not knowing whether it was a good one or not, M. (age 6) said, "We better just kill it, after those SVB's, better safe than sorry."  She's got a good point.  I hate to veer from organic, but we need some chemical warfare, Bacillus Thuringiensis otherwise known as BT.

1st baby pumpkin, not yet pollinated

At least our watermelons are coming along well.
Isn't it cute!  :)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our Gardening Bulletin Board

I have one bulletin dedicated to displaying what we have been doing and learning in our garden.  The subject areas will stay, and I plan to add/remove activities as we progress through the year.  I am using it with summer camp now, then with Pre-K during the school year.  It is constantly evolving, and is an easy way to display to parents/admin. the progress.  The other component I have yet to add, is a descriptive note about each activity and how they correlate to the learning domains/standards.  This component is something NAEYC really likes to see and I should have it on there already!

I just noticed as I was going through my pics, that I didn't take one of the whole board, just took pics of each section.  In doing this, I somehow missed the title, centered and above the other stuff, "Gardening is our path to learning," or something like that, lol.

left side of board
This shows some of our corn cobs as well as the kids tilling and composting the old spring stuff.  I was able to stick with our summer camp calendar that had a day set aside for bubble wrap, and tied it into our gardening.  I LOVE bubble wrap!  Our summer camp is divided into 3 age groups.  We rotated the groups so that each group did 3 bubble wrap activities.  With my activity, we gave each child a yellow 'cob' outline, and a 'husk' outline to cut out.  For the 2 older groups, I had them write a prediction on their husk, stating how many days they though it would be until our corn stalks produced corn.  I omitted this with the 5 years old's because they take longer to cut out shapes and have less writing abilities.  This was a last minute decision based on lack of time.  In the future, I would pre-write,  "_____________ predicts we will have corn in _____ days," on the green husks. Then the younger crowd can write their name on the first line and the number on the second space.  The children then painted white paint on the bubble wrap and laid their yellow cob over the bubble wrap to make the little circular imprints that look like corn kernels.

Obviously the corn cobs help the kids with fine motor skills.  They also provide another 'media' to create artwork, and include scientific development by making predictions.

In the photos, the children are developing their gross motor skills.  Social skills are integrated as they take turns using the garden tools.   Recycling the old plants into the compost bin adds a 'self sustaining' social studies element as well as science.

 The mathematical area has some of the 'observational data' that the kids did on our corn.  We have marked 2 corn stalks in the garden that are different.  One is a straight stalk and the other one has 2 side shoots.  The children drew a pic of each stalk and then wrote a prediction about how well each one will grow, and why.

This uses math via noticing differences in height and number of shoots/stalks.  They are also writing (literacy) and predicting (science).  I also have a couple of these under the "Language and Literacy" section of the board though it is not shown.  They had some great thoughts on these, some thinking that the one with the side shoots would grow better because there are more leaves to get sunlight.  Others felt that the side shoots would take more energy from the main stalk, causing it's growth to slow down.  Smart kids!  We are also measuring these two stalks and graphing their heights twice a week, to determine the 'growth rate' of each.  I will post a pic of that later.
The red tape marks the 2 stalks we are observing, picture taken early/mid July 2011

On the right side of the board we have a prediction chart concerning our watermelon and giant pumpkin...yes I said GIANT.  I'll save that for another post, lol.  We planted both seeds on the same day and they both sprouted around the same time (over the weekend.)  The children had 2 predictions to make on this chart:  Which plant would have the first blossoms, and which will produce the first harvest.  I was amazed  by the discussion/debating that the children had over this as they  waited for their turn to write 'watermelon' or 'pumpkin' for each prediction.  

This is a great example of why I allow my class to be 'louder' than others.  These kind of predictions also help keep them interested in the garden, as they are so competitive and ALWAYS want to be 'right'!