Stratford Students Make New Discoveries in School Garden
Stratford's 'Discovery Garden' offers an innovative way to learn
In the fall of 2008, the seeds for the 'Discovery Garden' at Stratford Landing Elementary school were planted and a team of parents, teachers, students and school alumni have kept it going ever since.
The garden is designed to be an "outdoor classroom," giving students a creative space to learn everything from the life cycles of plants to mathematical applications.
"Kids just love being in the space. They'll learn just by sitting there," says Eleanor Whitaker, a Stratford Landing Elementary school parent. Whitaker and Michelle Dittman, a science teacher at Stratford, first championed the garden initiative.
For the last two years, the PTA budgeted $2000 for the garden. In effort to give teachers more information about what is in the garden, the PTA spent about half of the money last school year on colored signs and plant labels. The signs identify plants, explain the use of the rain barrels, and discuss how bees play a role in plant life. Dittman added that she publicizes updates on the garden to her fellow teachers through a newsletter.
"Teachers are really busy, with a lot on their plates, so we ask, but do not force," says Dittman. "We've gotten more interest as time goes on."
Students from the Pulley Career Center built picnic tables and Fairfax County helped transport them to Stratford Landing. Whitaker says they are currently applying for a youth gardening grant from Home Depot.
The garden offers different sections for different age levels. In the "five senses' garden, first graders can see plant growth, touch the plants, smell herbs like rosemary and basil, taste lettuce, okra, beans and carrots and hear grasses rustle.
Second graders study Native American history and plant "the three sisters," a Native American term for their dietary staples squash, beans and corn. Whitaker has recently researched what colonial plants to put in the garden to coincide fourth graders study of life in colonial Virginia. Although the discovery garden is used mainly by the primary grades, Whitaker says the garden is a useful and innovative learning tool for students of all ages.
"Kids just have that sense of wonder," she says.