We have a beautiful outdoor classroom which is situated between the front of the school and Montrose Avenue. It has been a work in progress for the last number of years. While we are excellent repurposers, constantly scanning the sidewalks of Toronto for materials we can use (e.g., furniture, plant pots…), the wooden garden planters that are central to the space are falling apart and need to be replaced. Our Action Project would involve students in the replacement of these planters, and then continue our existing gardening and food cycle program.
The Outdoor Classroom
Our outdoor classroom is primarily used by the two kindergarten classes but the other classes in the school also have access. Since it runs along the street the community also enjoys the space. As we have improved the space, we have received a great deal of support from the neighbours who previously complained about the state of it.
A major aspect of our design and use of the outdoor classroom is the garden where we grow vegetables and flowers with an emphasis on native plants and pollinator friendly species. It is important to us for our students to know where food comes from and to understand plant life cycles. We are trying to help the students understand that the little things that they do can have an impact and believe that our school garden is helping to instill them with skills and knowledge that support ecological balance. After all, the German educator Friedrich Froebel coined the term “kindergarten” (children’s garden) to describe his educational practice of using gardens and games to develop children’s intelligence.
Using the Outdoor Classroom to Learn About the Food Cycle
In the spring, we plant seeds inside. The students care for the plants as they sprout and grow. When the weather permits, we transfer our seedlings to the raised planter beds.
The students are actively involved throughout the process. They prepare the beds for planting. They water the plants as needed. We try to have an early harvest of something like radishes so that the students can see the fruits of their labour before school ends.
Parents sign up to water, weed and harvest during the summer, which expands the program into the students’ home life. When school resumes, we harvest the rest of the vegetables with the students. Despite the school closures last spring, we were still able to harvest kale, tomatoes, basil, peppers and sunflowers.
Our outdoor classroom requires ongoing maintenance. Two of the raised wooden planters that we started with are falling apart and need to be replaced. We would like to replace them with other wooden raised planters or with metal stock tanks which we feel will have increased longevity.
The students will be involved in measuring the spaces where the existing planters are and determining what size of planter would best fit. They will empty the current planters and disassemble them if it is safely possible to do so. They will be present for the installation of the new planter(s) and will help fill them with soil. They will then be able to plant in them as described above.
How Our Action Project Relates to Climate Change
A functional and sustainable food cycle is a key element of facing the climate change challenge. Agricultural emissions (8% of Canada’s total GHG emissions) are only part of the picture. Manufacturing, retailing, household waste and transport are all part of the picture, with some estimates putting Canada’s food system emissions at 30-40% of total GHG emissions. Understanding the multiple links between agriculture and climate change seems critical for the survival and well-being of humanity.
With our very young kindergarten students our aim is of course not to teach them about climate change and its links to agriculture head on, but rather to equip them with skills and knowledge that will make them feel empowered to face that challenge as they mature.
Our school garden can, we believe, help our students start on the path of stewardship and guardianship of our environment. An early interest in gardening and fresh produce may lead to a lifetime of gardening and support for local food, which has a direct impact on emissions: their personal choices can make a difference. More importantly, we think, we are initiating a tangible and physical skill set in our students that can be part of the answer to the sense of the feelings of fear and helplessness that climate change is causing in our youth.
Reflection & Celebration
The kindergarten students were excited to be a part of this project. They were able to measure the existing planters, empty and remove them, start bean plants inside, partially fill the new tanks with plastics that would otherwise go in the garbage, watch soil and mulch get delivered in bulk and fill the tanks with soil. They might be small but they are mighty!
Check out our progress in this video!