The Humpty Dumpty Wall
To create sustainable green space for Kindergarten children to enjoy during recess and after school.
To revamp an old concrete space with recycled materials and give children an opportunity to build, design and plant a safe haven.
To give children an opportunity to find joy in gardening, protecting Mother Earth, develop self-regulation skills and an understanding of how to become a strong community member.
At St. John school we have a very limited amount of green space for the kindergarten students to access. During the height of Covid-19, the students were required to remain in small sections of the yard to maintain safe distance – but this meant our smallest population was left to play on pavement. As both a mother and Educator at our school, it was important to me to expose the children to a love of gardening from an early age. I personally found gardening soothed my own anxieties during the pandemic and wanted to share the magic of digging into soil to find healing.
Our class was beginning an inquiry about seeds, their life cycle and how insects affect our world. We had planted seeds in our classroom and were growing them in our sensory table. The children were amazed at how quickly the sunflowers, beans, corn and other plants sprouted! What better way to teach about sustainability than to create a hands-on experience within our own 4 walls? We discussed the types of insects and pollinators that would visit our gardens and how they would help it grow. The children were most excited about the butterflies that were soon going to hatch in a neighbouring classroom. The students predicted that the butterflies would feed on our garden before their long migration South. We also continued our discussion From Earth Day about how we take so much from Mother Earth but often forget to give back to her. We made a class pact that we were going to give a gift back to our planet by returning life to the soil.
The first step was making a plan. We decided to use a space called “The Humpty Dumpty Wall” (a concrete frame that housed 3 maple trees). The soil was rock hard from years of children’s stomping feet and the maple tree’s roots were impossible to dig past. Our original idea to dig directly into the bed was not going to work, so we had to get creative. So, my own family and I found recycled wood pallets/crates and used wood stumps from a recent storm to create our raised flower beds, viewing stools, walking paths and more. In kindergarten, we discuss the importance of developing self-regulation skills but on a busy school yard it is often quite difficult for a child to find a quiet space to think. We created not only beautiful space to grow plants, but beautiful quiet space to help children grow too.
We originally had the volunteered support of several families to come assist us with the build, but sadly a devastating storm destroyed and left our town with no power for over a week. Much of the work the students have previously completed was gone without a trace or blown into neighbouring yards. It was a heart breaking sight to see. But during this time in the literal dark and unknown, my family (daughters are ages 10 and 4) and I took to the school yard during the evenings to transform the yard. With every bag of soil and mulch that we laid down, our hearts began to heal. There was so much destruction and loss of old majestic trees in our area but it felt great to be able to give back to the natural world.
Once we returned back to school, my students and their peers were originally disappointed in the loss of their previous work (our indoor plants died while we were gone for the week) but were inspired to restart. They instantly began to explore and inquire about the new space we had created. Each child in my classroom and our neighbouring kindergarten classroom were able to either plant, dig, water or help design the landscape of our garden. Students from all grades became very interested in our project and started to come over during recess to inspect our work. Older students came to knock on our classroom door asking for permission to water our gardens or inquiring about the types of plants we added. As I type this, the older grades are discussing how to create QR codes for students to easily identify all of our plant species while we utilize our outdoor classroom space! The gardening tools purchased were also used by the grade 8 students to create a food garden for our community. Soon we will have pumpkins, corn, squash and more for the community to pick and enjoy!
Our community is beautiful and full of wonder but sadly it falls victim to petty vandalism most weekends. Originally, I was unsure if all of our hard work would even last a single Saturday night. But one evening while I worked on the flower beds I caught the eye of a few older students that were lingering by the swing set. They watched me work, occasionally passing by me on their scooters but didn’t engage with me. Before I left, I called out to them about the gardens and I asked them to be guardians of the new space (whether they were students of our school or not). I explained all the hard work that was put into this community garden and that it belonged to all of us – even them. As I drove away from their rolling eyes, I dreaded returning the next morning, knowing that I was due to find the inevitable. But surprisingly, the garden was completely intact. The next day, it was watered.
This garden is a symbol of hope to this community. Not only because of the new life it is literally growing in it but our city is hurting right now. The tornado-like storm destroyed homes, crushed cars, cost entire contents of fridges/freezers and stole the sense of security from so many of our school families. Knowing that students and their families have a safe place to visit, reflect and reenergize on our grounds brings a smile to my face. I hope that the peace that the outdoors brings my family and I, can be spread to other families as well. I hope that all of the lessons, inquiries and research about our plants starts conversations at dinner and inspires home gardens to be dug.
I am excited to return to school on Monday to help my students fill our newly purchased watering cans and hear about their visits to the property.
Lastly I would like to leave you with a quote that stuck out to me and I wrote on our school white board today:
“Community is much more than belonging to something; it’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter”
Reflection & Celebration
The children were excited about and very protective of their new space. They carefully explained to one another about how to water the plants, how to not pick the flowers and how to smell the glorious scents of the garden. The garden was created by the kindergarten classes but was quickly shared with the entire school. Older sibling came over to inquire, other grades asked how they could contribute and students who often find themselves in trouble during large group play – found a quite place to think and regulate themselves.