Imagine the school of your dreams, where learning at the ages of 5 and 6 is not only fun and creative, but something of a live fairy tale immersed in an environment of living, growing fruits, vegetables, trees, and flowers. Timothy Long and Julian Ravenscroft have helped create a magical environment for kindergarten and first grade students at Daleville Elementary. And their story just gets better and better.
How It Began
Six years ago, this school won a grant of $15,000 from the Ball Brothers Foundation. When it was suggested that a portion of those funds be used for new classroom computers, Julian Ravenscroft, a 7th grade math teacher, wanted just the opposite. He was frustrated with teaching children with traditional methods; tired of teaching to the test. He envisioned something on a much grander scale.
Instead, a portion of the funds were invested in over a hundred apple trees which were planted in a nearby field by kindergarten students, who were coached by high school students. But that was just the beginning.
The Idea Grows
With some new farm-to-school grant funding, Tim Long and Julian Ravenscroft purchased and created a 20X80 foot greenhouse and named it “Kinder Garden.” The lucky kindergarten children at Daleville Elementary now plant seeds and learn how to take care the plants. The food that’s harvested goes to their own cafeteria for meals.
Currently in the Kinder Garden, beans, onions, garlic, two kinds of peppers, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes and two types of carrots are growing. Planting carrots takes place in fall, when the kids are also picking up apples and cutting them up for applesauce, which is served to them at lunch.
Although they’re still improving on it, the greenhouse is now just a part of a 4-acre “outdoor learning lab.” In addition to the apple trees, there are now peach trees, 150 black and red raspberry canes, hazelnut bushes and asparagus. Fencing around the project allows other plants to climb and grow. All is organic and no chemicals are used. But there’s more.
Real Fun in Learning
As this project moved forward, amazing things began to take form. In addition to the extensive orchard, the garden’s 20-foot (6 m) high entrance tunnel is covered with wisteria. To the right of the tunnel is a bamboo forest. There’s a “tinker nook” for crafts and art projects with long tables and a canopy of hardy kiwi for shade. On one gentle slope a long corrugated pipe with two gutter tracks was installed — a slide for kids that’s surrounded by mint. A magical, elevated stage and set where children can dress up and act out skits and presentations are at the heart of the area. A pizza oven, an octagon porch swing/hammock structure and science lessons involving making blackberry jam over a fire – this learning lab provides unforgettable early memories for Daleville’s kids.
The dream project continues to grow, with more grants, more ideas and more field trips.
Speaking to his inspiration, Julian Ravenscroft said, “our volunteers are the real reason any of this exists” and he specifically mentions his wife, Kathie, who has dedicated countless hours toward dreaming up and writing curriculum for most of the “learning adventures.”
More than just a school garden, the youngest of school children happily enjoy integrated learning about the cycles of nature and the joys of gardening, as well as traditional academics. The Kinder Garden is a consummate example of how children can grow to love the learning process in an imaginative, natural environment. We at Gardening Know How are happy to be a sponsor of this rich, inspiring program.
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help. Click here to learn how to apply for your own sponsorship.
Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Gardening for Everyone page today.