Published In

Clearing Magazine

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Environmental education -- Activity programs, Sustainability -- Study and teaching, Biodiversity, School gardens


After we spread the chicken poop, we covered it with hay... the poop was the fertilizer and the hay was the stuff that kept the plants warm. After school l checked the garden. Empty. Nobody. I climbed the fence to check the radishes I had planted. I dug around the radishes. They seemed dead. I grabbed a magnifying glass and looked closely at the leaves. Aphids were chewing all the leaves, like ants or other bugs. I went home worried. Next day I went to check the garden. Something red flashed in my eye. I panicked. "Yhaaaa!" I screamed with terror. 1 looked down expecting to see some poisonous bug. It was a pair of ladybugs, maybe mating. The answer to the radish problem right in front of my face!

This journal entry conveys an eight year old student's understanding of the web of life: how to use natural fertilizer, ways to warm the soil to create favorable conditions for plant growth, and the role of beneficial insects in a school garden. Beyond distant field trips, learning gardens provide a locally relevant context for such multi-faceted environmental discovery right on the school grounds where learning is housed; they bring children into contact with a vast biological and cultural web of relations embodied in the living soil of compost. We celebrate learning gardens as sites for integrated learning that can help students develop an intimate connection with land, insects, plants, and soil through awakening their curiosity, wonder, and critical thinking skills. Life is about more than head and gut; our fingernails, skins, palates, nostrils, and tongues are also important in nurturing deep and long lasting bonds of environmental kinship. In this essay we highlight compost-making as a practical school garden activity that builds living soil.


Originally appeared in Clearing Magazine, A Resource Journal of Environmental and Place-based Education, and archived here with their kind permission. To view this and other articles, please see

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