By Shelley Harris, Children’s Librarian
Have you ever explored the little side yard of the Maze Branch Library (pictured above)?
It’s not exactly quiet, because it’s right next to the expressway. But it can still be a cozy place to curl up with a book, do some yoga on the grass, watch for butterflies in the pollinator garden, or, during the summer, harvest some herbs to bring home from the Community Sensory Garden.
I’ve written before about why we began this garden, which is planted and tended to in classes all summer by disabled youth. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be a part of and give back to their community!
We’re excited to get kids back into the dirt after so many Covid years. This summer, we’ll be planting vegetables, plus our usual herbs. Everything we grow will be used by the kids and teens as they make gluten- and dairy-free recipes in classes each month.
We want everyone in Oak Park to feel empowered to take herbs and veggies home with them to enjoy. What isn’t harvested by you or our classes will be donated by the kids to Beyond Hunger. There’s plenty for everyone! (Especially mint. Please take our mint. We beg you.)
Whether your family attends our classes or not, there’s a lot of fun to be had in any garden! Let’s explore.
Videos to watch
Jenny and I have a tour of what we grew last year:
I love using the Seek app to identify plants, but it’s fun to start by describing them and comparing plants you see growing. This is a great way to practice math and science skills, too.
Gardens are an outdoor classroom
New emails from Hedda Sharapan, of the Fred Rogers Center, make my day. Last week’s was perfect for the season and this post: Plant One Seed, Grow Two Lessons.
In our garden classes, we often highlight math, science, and literacy. Fred and Hedda point out that there’s a social-emotional learning aspect, too: There’s waiting for things to sprout, and learning that growing takes time, but it happens even when you can’t see it. That’s challenging for kids to understand!
Gardening also offers exercise, builds healthy eating habits, and reduces stress—something even kids need. There’s a lot of decision-making, too: what do I want to grow? Does this light work better, or this one?
You don’t need a yard to grow things, either. Use a windowsill or grow herbs in your kitchen.
If you’re wondering about the best plants to start with for kids, this article has a number of suggestions and great resources.
Check out these books for inspiration!
- Planting a Garden in Room 6 shows kindergartners at work in their garden: great for kids to emulate!
- Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt is great for kids who want to know why things happen, and how.
- Garden to Table has simple recipes for good food that is easy to grow.
- Have a kid who loves French fries? Learn how to grow some potatoes!
- Sometimes growing food isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need fairies to visit, too. Design your own fairy garden!
Shelley is a children’s librarian with a passion for early literacy, serving and celebrating the disability community, and exploring technology. She can often be found practicing storytime songs with her black lab, Bingo.