Sparrow students learn in a lively way through practical, hands-on activities that give them direct experiences of the world in which we live. One example of this is the farming block with which the third grade class launched this school year.
During this block, students surveyed the land surrounding our school building to find suitable places on which to place raised garden beds. They had to consider proximity to water spigots, steepness of hill slopes, and angles of the sun throughout the year with its accompanying shade. While comparing different types of soil, they realized why clay is so darned difficult to work with here in San Diego, and why sandy soils leave plants too dry. They knew we needed deep garden beds to hold lots of good, loamy soil and compost.
The kids refreshed their knowledge about composting through some imaginative stories of “Willy the Worm and Farmer Giles” and made presentations to the other classes about what constituted a good balance of “greens” and “browns” for a school-wide composting effort. They managed the balanced filling of one compost barrel and built a fence to contain another compost pile, to which they still tend.
The students helped measure, cut, drill and build three large garden beds after digging out a flat terrace from the slope behind the school. They placed the beds, leveled them, and then after parent volunteers filled them with soil, the kids plowed in some great steer manure!
What followed, of course, was planting! The kids tend their garden beds each week, checking for weeds, watering, marveling over the miraculous growth of the snow peas, and pondering the slow emergence of the lettuces.
A trip to Suzie’s Farm helped them see their small farming efforts magnified to a much larger scale. They eagerly answered our docent’s questions, proud of all they already knew about organic farming, pest-control, composting, and the like.
“This sounds fun and all, but where is the learning?” you might ask. Great question! Throughout this block, the outdoor experiences and the imaginative stories told in the classroom worked together to build an emotionally-charged picture for the children of the interconnectedness of life, of how each living thing depends on and gives back to other living things. This is a foundational scientific understanding that is mostly missed in traditional school settings because the children are overrun with abstract concepts without concrete, developmentally appropriate experiences.
Back in the classroom, the students were writing about their learning, drawing diagrams and pictures, using the garden project and farming stories as inspiration. They worked on spelling and punctuation skills through farm-related dictation exercises, and honed their cursive writing skills putting the edited pieces into their main lesson books.
The kids developed their public speaking and leadership skills in their compost presentations. Math problems were focused around practical challenges related to the garden beds and farming. The kids built sundials to track the movement of the sun by day, and tracked the phases of the moon by night.
Stories helped them understand how farmers in the old days used the sun to tell time by day and the moon to tell time by seasons, along with scores of other interesting details about the hard work of life on a farm.
Certainly, the 3Rs were being actively practiced, but so much more was experienced in the process. At Sparrow, we aim to bring the learning alive for our students, so that they not only gain skills and knowledge, but also a deeper understanding and appreciation of how those skills and knowledge benefit them, personally, and how they can utilize them to benefit the world in which we live.
Submitted by Alexis Ahrens, 3rd grade teacher