Thursday, January 8, 2009

No Child Left Inside - Rants and Raves

There was some great discussion going on recently over on Garden Rant about the No Child Left Inside Legislation that has passed in the House of Representatives. There was some debate about whether federal funds should be allocated for environmental education programs. Here’s a great video that explains why these programs are important.

It can be very hard to persuade schools to make “Edible Schoolyard”-type programs a part of the curriculum. In our school, the 4th grade science curriculum includes a unit on plants, but otherwise, this is something that teachers need to fit into their schedule. With the pressure they are under to prepare students for standardized tests (ala No Child Left Behind), it’s not surprising that the greenhouse experience is not always real high on their priority list. An Edible Schoolyard program would also compete with arts and athletic programs – and they have their own advocates who also (rightly) feel shortchanged.

In our school, the Courtyard Garden Committee is part of the PTA and a great deal of the garden maintenance money comes out of the PTA budget. The parent volunteers pretty much go from classroom to classroom, knocking on doors, peddling projects to the teachers. The teachers are receptive to a point, and become more receptive when supplies are delivered. They sometimes shy away from regular maintenance once plants have germinated, because it requires a time commitment that they just don’t have.

It’s too bad that that children aren’t taught more practical skills in school. Who is to say that making salsa from tomatoes and herbs that they’ve planted themselves isn’t more practical than mathematics. It’s too bad that they can identify more corporate logos than species of plants in their own backyards. Any federal funds that can address this would be welcome, I think.

Another goal is to interest children in the outdoors so that they get off the couch, away from the TVs, computers and video games, and outside playing and exploring their neighborhoods. What’s standing in the way? Parents. They are afraid to let their kids out of their sight because the media has convinced them that child abductors and perverts lurk behind every tree. They’re afraid that their kids won’t remember to look both ways when crossing the street. They are too busy to accompany their children on outdoor adventures. They’ve spent hundreds of dollars on video game systems and naturally they want them to be used.

I gotta admit that I'm somewhat guilty on all counts. I don’t know what the answers are, but I’m learning a lot from blogs like Free Range Kids, where Lenore Skenazy explores questions like why we feel the need to drive our kids to the bus stop, and why you might be called by the police if you allow your child to ride the train on his own. On Mike Lanza’s Playborhood blog, he writes about how he’s turning his front yard into an outdoor family room to encourage parents and kids in his neighborhood to socialize outdoors. Here in Rockland County, NY, Sonia Cairo at Keep Rockland Beautiful is putting together an Earth B.E.A.T enrichment program to take into schools with activities for kids that demonstrate gardening, recycling, energy conservation and nature study. Local educators can check out their Earth B.E.AT. School-to-School Symposium here.


Karen said...

Very nice post about some really crucial issues. Hate to see stuff like recess being taken away due to the testing mania. And so many schools could benefit from a good gardening program - the "Edible Schoolyard" is something I keep thinking I should try to get going at our school, which does have ample space and lots of community involvement. A cousin's daughter was at the original school in Berkeley that was the pilot program for that, it was so amazing.

Linda said...

I really enjoyed watching the video.

Joanne said...

If it's a struggle to get these programs into the curriculum, would it be possible or feasible to have a gardening program as an after-school club/activity? Even exposing some students to gardening ideas/skills would be a start. Just a thought.

Squirrel said...

when my parents went to school there were greenhouses on school property and gardens. every student participated. by the time I got there, the greenhouse was a wreck, and the garden had been paved for sports.

LazyMom said...

I love the courtyard garden at the elementary school. I think it might be difficult to get the test crazed teachers on board with a larger garden project, but there could be locally grown food at the cafeteria and perhaps visits to local farms...

Oddly after I spent last spring and summer nursing a rather pathetic first vegetable garden along, my Beast child, who did virtual NOTHING but eat the fresh peas, made one of her New Years Resolutions this year to grow a BIG garden. She has circled the vegetables she wants in the seed catalogue. Go Figure.

Having our chickens has also kept us all out in the backyard a lot. They are a point of interest for the kids who can take them out of their pen and let them roam while they play . And as one fellow chicken owner said—they are like wonderful little kinetic pieces of art to have in the backyard. Sitting outside with a coffee or a glass of wine and your sweetheart while the children play and the chickens wander around scratching for bugs and worms—nothing is better.

JGH said...

Karen, definitely talk to your principal about it. If you can get the principal behind the idea, it can be key to getting the teachers involved.

Linda, thanks for visiting. I love the video too.

Joanne, that is an excellent suggestion and one that we may try. The main volunteers for this would be working moms, so even afterschool is difficult sometimes, but with a bunch of us involved, we should be able to get all the shifts covered.

Squirrel that makes me sad to hear about the garden paved over for sports. Wasn't there any other space??

Lazy, that's so great to hear about the BEAST's interest in her own garden! (I wonder if chickens eat the bugs in the veggie gardens.. or the veggies! That's something I have to check into...) The image you paint of enjoying the chickens and kids playing in the backyard sounds idyllic.

tina said...

Love that greenhouse and pond at the school. My kind of school.