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Just as Portland Nursery is celebrating its Jubilee this year, the creation of Montessori education is also celebrating 100 years; in January of 1907 Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor and educator, opened her first independent school which she named it "Casa dei Bambini" or Children's House. The success of this school spawned many more and gradually became the internationally-recognized teaching method it is today.
Among other things, Montessori education stresses experiential learning and observing children as they interact with their environment. Academics are combined with practical life skills, all with a strong “hands-on” approach.; So it is no surprise that gardening is frequently an element of a Montessori school's educational dynamic. This is exemplified by the Franciscan Montessori Earth School celebrating thirty years of teaching.
Over the past several years, Franciscan Montessori Earth School classes have maintained small “gardens” in raised beds in two separate courtyards. Individual classrooms are responsible for their own “garden,” and they are grouped in such a way as to be visible from many of the rooms, so they can be enjoyed directly as well as indirectly throughout the day. In this way they are both learning tool and landscape for the school.
During the 2006-07 school year, they broke ground and created a large in-ground garden at the back of the school. Headed by new teacher Marc Boucher-Colbert, the students involved in this new garden planned and dug and watered and weeded and (with the help of some innately great soil) were able to produce an abundance of food from their first year' s efforts.
The Middle School students, as part of their school day, make their lunch daily in the on-site kitchen with help from a staff cook. This year, they were able to incorporate some of the vegetables directly from this new garden in their midday meal, giving them the experience of the freshest possible food, and food they had a hand in growing.
Franciscan Montessori Earth School's gardening program doesn't stop at the confines of the regular school year: There are active summer garden club sessions as well, also under the direction of Marc Boucher-Colbert, one of which I got the chance to visit on a recent morning. The students had harvested garlic they had planted last fall, and were learning how to make garlic braids. There was enough that each student could take one home as well as have some to hang in the school kitchen, available for all to enjoy.
The students eagerly gave me a tour of their garden, showing me their favorite sections and telling stories of the progression of the crops; uprooting and presenting me with a pair of frankly enormous red beets and proudly showing me the lettuce they were intentionally letting go to seed, planning to gather and save and use for next year’s planting.
Then it was back to the kitchen where they completed and baked the braided challah bread they had started earlier (garlic, challah...notice the repetition of eye-hand braiding skill learning, anyone?).
After it finished baking they generously shared with me and we had the nothing-else-quite-like-it experience of eating freshly baked bread out of the oven. (Garden note: there was a small stand of wheat in their garden – the plan is to eventually have the experience of grinding their own grain and making bread with the results. How many of us really know where our bread comes from?)
I asked teacher Marc Boucher-Colbert to tell me why he likes teaching the gardening classes. Here is part of his response:
“…A garden is a wild, cool, wacky place where surprises abound and where we are small players in a bigger drama. What a liberating feeling. The garden is also full of pleasures of the eye, the nose and the tongue. Kids are creatures of the moment and of the body, so what better place to satisfy all their needs for energetic motion, wonderment and snacking than in a garden? I’ve taught in the classroom before, but there’s no going back once you’ve taught in a garden. It’s real; it’s engaging; it’s life.”
I couldn’t have said it better. Congratulations, and Happy Gardening.
Peggy Acott, Portland Nursery Community Outreach Director
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