Child Development Center
An oasis in the city - that's what the Helen Gordon Child Development Center seems like. Housed in the midst of the towering buildings of Portland State University and downtown Portland, this innovative school has nestled an active gardening program in their surroundings of concrete and brick.
The classrooms are full of the sounds of active learning; cluttered with the various tools and treasures of hands-on learning experiences. Walls are plastered with drawings and paintings, often having something to do with flowers and plants.
The outdoors and indoors mingle here: Every classroom has abundant windows that look out onto the playground, the garden, the sky. There are containers of brightly colored flowers on the balconies outside the second-floor classrooms that the students carefully tend and monitor. All the classes take part in the small but abundant garden beds behind the picket fence at the far end of the extensive, inviting and exploratory playground.
Outdoor activities are such a big part of being a student at Helen Gordon: lots of open space to ride and run, places to climb and work young muscles, and of course there’s the garden. The garden is a main part of this environment, frequently visited by students who want to check on their favorite plants, see if vegetables are ready to harvest, flowers to pick, or just be with their friends, seeing what interesting bugs might be crawling along the ground. They are free to explore and discover new things; taught to be mindful, there is no need to over-monitor them.
Although every place is visible to the teachers and aides who are present, there is nevertheless to these young gardeners there is the sense that they can feel free to be independent and autonomous in this space, that it is theirs.
This sense of ownership and care leads them to be young stewards of their little plot of ground, protective and proud of all it produces. And though the space is relatively small, to those as small as 4-and-5-year-olds, it is a vast wonderland of possibility.
Corina Reynolds Stearns, Portland Nursery Community Outreach Director
For information on how we can help, please send an email to Corina Reynolds Stearns