4-H Children's Gardens provide experiential start to school year

Elementary students from Dwight Rich School of the Arts spent their first two weeks of school at Michigan State University for experiential learning at the 4-H Children's Gardens and other campus locations.

A girl is looking at a seed on the palm of a women's hand

Twenty-five years ago, the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens were created as the first gardens in the United States specifically designed for children’s education on a college campus. For Dwight Rich School of the Arts, that is exactly what the 4-H Children’s Gardens provided – a place for its students to learn and grow together for their first few weeks of the school year.

Dwight Rich School underwent construction this year. The school was too small to hold all of its students, and it was old. When the school staff realized the new building wasn’t going to be completed in time for the start of the new school year, they needed to make alternative arrangements for the first two weeks.

The principal and teachers reached out to various outreach programs at Michigan State University, including the 4-H Children’s Gardens, MSU Museum, Planetarium and Cyclotron. After several summer planning meetings, teachers and MSU employees worked together to create a schedule full of interactive learning while building community connections.

“The biggest challenge was taking the risk of bringing 26 students whom I had never met previously off school grounds, but it also presented me with a unique way to connect and bond relationally outside of the traditional classroom setting,” said Keturah Bouyer, third grade teacher at Dwight Rich School of the Arts.

The 4-H Children’s Gardens hosted kindergarten, first-, second- and third-grade classes – one grade level each day. Students arrived at the garden by 10 a.m. and left around 2 p.m. Over four days, more than 300 students explored and experienced the wonder of the gardens. For most of them, this was their first visit to the 4-H Children’s Gardens.

Dwight Rich School of the Arts kindergarten through third grade classes spent their first two weeks of the school year at the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens and other Michigan State University locations for hands-on learning


“These are some of the bravest teachers ever, taking field trips right at the beginning of school,” said Norm Lownds, Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens curator. “It shows how very dedicated these teachers are to giving their students the most amazing learning experiences.”

At the 4-H Children’s Gardens students participated in a variety of interactive activities throughout the gardens and still had traditional classroom time with their teachers in classrooms provided by the 4-H Children’s Gardens.

“We appreciated the willingness of the staff at the gardens to speak with us about the experience before our visit and then take the reins to plan a content-driven, fun and valuable day for our children,” said Kimberly Coscarella, kindergarten teacher at Dwight Rich School of the Arts. When asked what the students’ favorite activity was while in the gardens, teachers’ overwhelming response was: getting to explore the pizza garden. Students used their five senses to learn about basil and oregano, all while learning where their food comes from. They especially liked choosing a petal from a begonia plant on the floral peacock to taste.

To strengthen the community connections between the classes and the 4-H Children’s Gardens, the students all planted flowers to take back to their new school.

“The students loved planting the violas, and they were excited to take them back to the school, which are now growing beautifully in our courtyard,” Bouyer said.

Lownds will visit the school multiple times throughout the school year to continue the community connections. The 4-H Children’s Gardens employees and the teachers at Dwight Rich School of the Arts are excited to continue their relationship into the future.

“We are looking forward to our ongoing relationship with the staff at the 4-H Children’s Gardens as they visit our school throughout the year,” Coscarella said. “We have plans to reconnect every few months to further the students’ understanding about plants during the year, and we will also be creating art related to our work with plants to be displayed at the gardens as a reminder of our learning there.”

“Thanks so much to the garden staff for being willing to partner with us in the most adventurous start to a school year I have ever experienced!” Bouyer added. “I really think, as a community partner, you introduced our students to life in a garden and showed what the great state of Michigan has to offer through their experience at MSU!”

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