“Ok friends, who wants to go to the garden?” I ask. “Me, me, me!” chorus ten or so Primary Casa students. “Alright then, if you’ve already had snack and been to the bathroom, meet me at the gate and we’ll go. There are peppers and ground cherries waiting for you!”
Many of you may not know, but until last year, Gardening at the GMS was offered only as a weekly class during the regular school day program. Think of all the memories made in the GMS gardens over the past 20 years (yes, 20!!!). For the most part, seed-to-table experiences like planting garlic and making fresh basil pesto were mostly limited to formal classroom lessons once a week, in the fall and spring. And then, during the winter months, Environmental Education replaced Gardening classes until the soil and air warmed enough to return to work! Amazing, right? That this program has grown so much over the years. What’s even more amazing? These memories and connections with nature are happening now more than ever in the GMS Extended Day Program, Casa.
Many GMS Casa students are children of working parents who are not able to pick up their child at 3:00 when the regular school day ends. Many also have a very long day at school (some stay from 7:30-6:00pm), and need a more relaxed, home-like, and playful environment–especially during the late afternoon. Casa children regularly play outdoors, build great works in the Casa classroom, and participate in enriching activities led by guest teachers (e.g. music, soccer, and art), but until last year they rarely ventured to the garden! Can you believe it?
It didn’t take long to change this, though. For the second year in a row, there is a formal time once a week where Casa children are invited to play and work in their garden with once of their Gardening teachers. But although there is only one formal time, there many more when the needs of the garden and the needs of the children cosmically align.
Every Tuesday this fall, Primary Casa students met at the Garden gate and awaited their chance to enter the afternoon wonderland. Late afternoon is a beautiful time in the Primary Garden, it’s filled with sunshine that illuminates the plant leaves, spider webs, and eyes of your children–even when the playground is shaded! When we enter together, we always meet on the blanket under the Asian persimmon tree to discuss what work is available for the day and sometimes, taste a fruit or vegetable together before moving to independent work and play. Some children decide to go on bug hunts, some continue digging work from their morning class, and others go harvest together (after asking what and how much is available!). It’s a true wonder to see them grow and develop a love and connection with the place. They care for the garden environment and take great joy in the discoveries along the way.
Garden time in Casa is a bit different than Garden class during the school day. We are usually busy working and playing for longer than 30 minutes and there are special work stations that are available to us for more nature play. Our absolute favorite is the cooking station! A few tree stumps arranged in a circle make for a great pretend cooking station and offer opportunities for fun, meaningful engagement with the non-edible offerings of our garden. Any Casa student can tell you, “We use weeds for the cooking station and plants in beds for real cooking!” They may even be able to tell you some of the weeds’ names, where they grow, and demonstrate several uses.
The garden offers our youngest Primary Casa students a place to practice lessons in controlling their bodies and using appropriate natural tools (sticks, mulch, and pebbles) that prepare them for positive experiences in the woods, a much larger an less predictable outdoor play environment we love to utilize in Casa.
It’s a joy and a privilege to guide Casa children throughout the seasons in their garden space. Children of this age need to play in a sensory-rich environment. They have found one here in their garden!
Check the GMS Gardens blog often for more updates on adventures in Casa and other programs!