The little vegetable garden

Other places that framed the younger children's Landcare activities occurred in two little vegetable gardens allocated to a class of 6 to 7 year olds; one was immediately outside their classroom and the other a short distance away from the main buildings. The following conversation took place during a gardening lesson where the children and Nel were returning to the gardens after a holiday break to investigate the changes.

Child: Look at the strawberries!

Monica: Those strawberries are going to be yummy aren't they? Can you show me your favourite plant in the garden?

Child: Parsley. It tastes like chili at the end.

Monica: What do you eat that with?

Child: I eat it by itself.

Nel: If you'd like you can pick a little bit of parsley. Now we're going to dig a hole so we can put in some tomato plants that Zoe has brought today. Where's another good spot to put in a tomato? I think that's a really good spot there [tomatoes are planted].

Children and Nel sing: Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear tomatoes, happy birthday to you.

Nel: Do you think they'll like it there?

Children: [all calling out] Yeah!

Nel: OK. We will need to water this garden bed. [Some children run off to fill watering cans, come back and start watering the plants. Nel directs]. A bit further, that's the way. That way it won't dry out and be sad. Good on you.

Child: That broccoli is my favourite.

Monica: Who will eat that broccoli when it's ready?

Child: We will. Maybe everyone will.

Nel: Let's try some of the peas we have grown. If you'd like to try a pea put your hands in the air. [Counts the hands]. We can have a pea each.

Child: [Crunching on a pea] I love peas.

Monica: What does that taste like?

Child: It tastes like sugar to me.

Monica: That's funny. Did you know those peas are called sugar snap peas?

Child: So that's why it tastes of sugar cane. Can you pick me off a tiny bit more? They're sweet and I want some more, it's too yummy. I want the whole plant.

Nel: OK let's go down [to the other garden bed] to see the sunflowers and broad beans.

Child: Ms Smit, look at this! [New sunflowers are sprouting out of the soil].

Nel: Oh wow, it's a little green shoot. Fantastic. Well we'd better get busy and take out some of the weeds so the weeds don't take over.

Child: Is this a weed?

Nel: Yes that's a weed. This is a weed too. Now let's see if the broad beans are ready [opens one up]. You take the broad bean from the inside.

Child: I got the biggest.

Child: Look what I found - a ladybug!

Monica: Where did you find that?

Child: It just crawled on me.

Monica: I think she likes you.

Nel: Now don't go picking all the broad beans because the small ones are still growing and they'll grow bigger. OK, now I think we've got about two minutes to run down and sit in your patch very quietly until Monica gets there and you can show her your patch.

The children's vegetable garden encounters were dominated by interactions with the living and non-living ecologies of the two distinctive gardens - lady bugs, strawberries, water and watering can, peas, broad beans, shovels and weeds. The garden exchanges reveal the ways learning is co-constructed through pedagogies of discovery, joy and surprise that stimulates children's interactions with the plants and animals that live in the garden. The act of planting seeds and the ensuing changes that occur once water, soil, and sunlight come into contact with the seeds is a recipe for magical learning, and children respond accordingly - 'look at this', 'look what I found', 'look at the strawberries'. Their observations and interactions with the garden continue to change once they harvest and taste peas, broad beans and strawberries. As a reward for the hard work of caring for, watering and weeding the plants they eat the fruit and know in their bodies that 'it's sweet' and 'too yummy'. The appeal for children in growing food in the little vegetable garden is obvious, and reflects the increasing recognition that children experience great pleasure and delight in eating food they are able to pick themselves. Further, the simple garden lesson highlights the integral contribution of fun and exploration as facets of learning that connect children to the living world in playful and open-ended ways.

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