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Creating a Jewish Preschool Garden: Step 1- Looking inward before outward

Hillary Marra

If you want to start a school garden or grow your existing garden program, January is the perfect time to begin. Three simple steps will have you growing a successful garden by this spring.

Let’s begin with Step 1: Looking inward before outward.

When I meet with Jewish early childhood educators, they are eager to jump to “What” questions. They will ask, “What can I grow? ”, “Where should it go?”, and “What garden programming and events should I do?”  They are all good questions but I always recommend they take the time to explore the “Why” question first. It’s helpful, therefore, to redirect and consider slightly different questions. To help, I ask them:

  • “Why?”
  • “Why do you want a garden?”
  • “What is your intention?”
  • “What do you want the children to experience?”
  • “What do you want a garden to do for you and your program?”
  • “How can a garden support your existing school goals?”

Then I sit back and listen as garden hopes, dreams, a vision and intention emerges.

The “Why garden” question is an important first step and exercise that sets you on a clearer path to creating your personalized garden plan – a solid foundation from which you will grow forward. Look within before looking outward. Let your plan speak to you and be authentic to who you are and what your mission is. Once you create your vision and set your intention, the answers to the “What” questions will then line up with your “Why”.

Create Your Vision and Intention 

Everyone wants a school garden, but why do YOU want one? Why is a garden right for your school? And for the children and families in your school? An effective garden program can highlight areas you are already strong in and help you achieve in areas you’d like to grow.

Rather than rush out and start digging and planting, bring colleagues together  and explore who you are and what you want a garden to accomplish. Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • Do you want to provide more outdoor play and nature opportunities?
  • Do you want your garden to support your language or science and math curriculums?
  • Do you want a Tzedakah (justice) garden where the children grow food and decide where to give the crops they harvest? Recipients can include seniors at a local synagogue, food pantry or neighboring school. The children can grow food for each other, such as the 4’s growing tomatoes for the 3’s.
  • Do you want a garden as a way to enhance your connections to Jewish values and the environment? Tikkun Olam (repair the world)?  Bal Tasheet (do not destroy)? Hodaya (appreciation)? and others.
  • Do you want to create a meaningful place/space for community-wide Jewish holiday events?
  • Do you want your garden to support families with health and wellness? Do you want to lead your families with healthy eating and garden-to-table cooking?
  • Do you want to teach children where food comes from and grow their culinary awareness, cooking knowledge and the repertoire of healthy foods they eat?
  • Do you want to develop confidence and positive self-esteem in each child? Teamwork and collaboration skills among children? Resourcefulness and Resiliency? Support fine and gross motor skills?
  • Do you want to create a natural setting to provide speech and language, OT and PT services?
  • Do you want to engage your larger community? Do you have an after-school program? Religious school? Camp? Extracurricular programming? Invite guests from other countries?

These questions will help you clarify a vision and intention for your school garden. Take time to explore these alone and together with colleagues. Drawing mental maps, organize small group discussions, and get the input of just about everyone who can help you narrow in on the vision that best fits your school’s current interests and goals. Taking this step now, early in the planning, will reap great rewards for everyone involved.

Click here to read the second post in this series, Creating a Jewish Preschool Garden: Step 2 – Building Your Garden Team

Hillary Marra is an Edible Garden Consultant at the Rosenthal JCC in Pleasentville, NY. You can read her bio here. She can be reached at hrmarra@optonline.net.

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