Lessons From The Garden About Constant Assessment

A group of four and five-year-olds once planted radish seeds in egg carton cups which we put on a sunny window sill. We had discussed how, if we were patient, if we remembered to give them just the right amount of water them every day, they would sprout and grow roots. Each child had their own dozen seedlings for which they assumed responsibility. Most of the kids had at least one sprout by day five. Most of the kids had 7-8 sprouts by day seven. Most of the kids had a dozen visible sprouts by day 10. But there was one boy who didn’t have any: all 12 of his seeds had failed to sprout.

This was a mystery. We wondered if maybe his carton hadn’t received enough sun. We wondered if maybe he hadn’t given them enough water. I finally asked him if he was sure he had planted seeds. He replied, “I know I did. I dig down to look at them every day.” Mystery solved.

I’ve come to believe that a garden should stand at the center of a preschool’s playground. The challenge, of course, is actually growing plants in a place where children are free to follow their own curiosity without being constantly corrected and scolded by the adults.

A three-year-old once presented me with a bouquet of tiny white and yellow blossoms which I instantly recognized as our entire crop of strawberries. We once introduced several fists full of worms to a bed that the children promptly dug up because they wanted to watch the worms “eat and poop dirt.” We gave up on root vegetables altogether because there was always at least one kid who wanted to check on the progress of our carrots or beets.

Gardens need our attention. They need us to water them when the rain is insufficient. Occasional weeding is useful. They might need the soil augmented with compost. And they need us when threatened by pestilence, trampling feet, or disease. But otherwise, as long as our seeds are planted in a sunny place, they thrive best when we step back and just let them grow. The seeds know what to do: they sprout, leaf, grow, flower, and fruit all on their own. They don’t need us to constantly fiddle with them. Indeed, as children who grow up with a garden at the center of their playground soon learn, constant assessment of their progress or attempts to hurry them along will impede, pervert and thwart their efforts to do what comes naturally to them, which is to grow.

This is also true of children.


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