School desk

Toddlers, teens tend school gardens


An idyll plays out every Monday at Spuyten Duyvil Preschool, where a parent who works at the New York Botanical Garden comes as a volunteer to teach children how to tend the school’s thriving garden. 

On a recent autumn morning, Ursula Chanse showed a group of 4-year-olds how to harvest the garden’s tender broccoli and carrots.

The tallest child in the group, Kyler Calderon, dove into the task, pulling a broccoli plant nearly as tall as him from the earth. Ms. Chanse told the boy how to shake dirt off the plant as three other children eagerly waited nearby for their turn.

“Hopefully it will give them a sense of not being scared of nature,” said Ms. Chanse, “just having more of a connection with nature and experience in it.”

In recent years, several gardens like the one at Spuyten Duyvil Preschool have popped-up in the Northwest Bronx. 

Today, from pre-school to high school, teachers are using gardens as classrooms to teach about ecology, healthy eating and other topics.

Judith Menken, the director of Spuyten Duyvil Preschool, says she conceived the idea for her school’s garden from the German founder of the first kindergarten — translated from German to children’s garden.

“Coming out here and planting the seed and watching it grow and seeing the butterflies come and the bees come and the plants going to seed — the whole process makes it very real and authentic, and we believe in authentic learning,” Ms. Menken said.

Spuyten Duyvil’s front lawn has several garden beds growing radishes and potatoes along with flowers including marigolds. 

Like the first kindergarten, the beds are divided into two-foot-wide sections.  However, unlike the progenitor, students are not confined to working on one section each.

Instead, they alternate working along all of the rows, as Ms. Chanse proffers advice and lessons about gardening and plant life.

cha“You’ve got the environmental studies, and you’ve got nature,” Ms. Menken said. “It’s where food comes from. Food doesn’t come from Food Town; it comes from the ground.”

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