Help Kids Grow: Plant a Garden

Help Kids Grow: Plant a Garden
Posted on 10/19/2020

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” Janet Kilburn Phillips

Over six years ago, an overachieving Mirror Lake Elementary School (MLES) music teacher and art teacher visited a Certified STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) school in Atlanta to learn innovative ways to incorporate STEM elements into their arts-abundant classrooms. Upon returning to MLES, they shared great ideas with the School Council and PTA, only briefly mentioning that the school they visited also had a garden. It was the garden, though, that struck a chord with the principal and PTA, and next thing you know, that music teacher, Natalie Murray, was transforming a grassy, courtyard area outside her classroom door into a garden.

The Golden Garden name pays tribute to the region’s gold mining history. In the years since the first soil was tilled and seeds were planted, the Golden Garden has grown and blossomed in many unexpected ways!

Science is taught as seeds grow into flowers and food. Art is taught as students make stepping stones, bird houses and other garden adornments. English and language arts are taught as books are read in the garden. PE is taught as yoga is practiced and outdoor sports games are played. Music is taught as students parade through the garden playing instruments or singing. “We try to make it as interactive and fun as possible,” says Murray. “The students really enjoy learning through the garden program.” She notes that taste tests are a fun and important part of the program, too!

MLES has “Garden Fridays” when every grade level receives some type of instruction related to the garden. Lessons might include actual gardening concepts or teaching students about environmental stewardship, agriculture, pollination, healthy eating, etc. Guest speakers – before the coronavirus pandemic limited school visitors – included farmers, bee keepers and chefs.

Different community partners and donors have helped make the garden grow. Locally, the Master Gardener’s Association, Georgia Farm Bureau and Turner Feed & Seed have contributed to the Golden Garden. Their support, along with grants from Georgia Shape and Whole Kids Foundation, have added more garden beds, built a greenhouse, and ensured all students have access to basic gardening tools. The latest addition to the garden program is a hydroponic garden in the Media Center. “Currently, we are growing cherry tomatoes and herbs in the hydroponic garden,” says Murray. “This part of our program shows an alternative to outdoor gardening and how food can be grown year-round without using soil. All students can observe what is growing each time they enter the Media Center!”

The growth of the garden has come with some deserved recognition for the school. “We’re on the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail because of our conservation efforts for the endangered Monarch butterfly,” explains Murray. “We are also active with the Georgia Organics program, and we participate with the Douglas County School System School Nutrition program’s farm-to-school teaching efforts.” The farm-to-school efforts, according to Murray, helped School Nutrition win the prestigious platinum-level Golden Radish award last school year.

A lot of school gardens suffer during the summer months when students and staff are out of school, but not the Golden Garden. Interested families sign up to take a week to tend the garden. Watering is the minimum required, but most families enjoy the project time together and handle weeding and pruning, too.

“My favorite thing about the garden is seeing the beautiful butterflies and finding eggs and caterpillars on the milkweed,” says Kyle Roque, a 5th grader at MLES.

Paisley Nicholson, 3rd grade, says, “I love to go outside in the breeze and look for caterpillars!”

“I like the beautiful flowers,” says Ava Jones, 1st grade.

“I like to see the plants growing, then take them to my house and eat them!” adds Autumn Perkins 2nd grade.

To keep up with the garden’s growth, “Like” The Golden Garden of Mirror Lake Elementary School Facebook page.

Girl planting in garden
This gardener is excited about planting a seedling.

Kids in garden
These students were closely watching to see if the Monarch butterfly would emerge from the chrysalis during their class time.

Girl watering garden
The cuties above and below were part of the summer volunteer team. Families signed up to tend the garden while school was on break.

boy in garden

Monarch butterfly
The Golden Garden's conservation efforts for the Monarch butterfly have led to its addition on the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail.

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