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project began. Fortunately, teachers of young children don’t need to have a lot
of gardening knowledge at the beginning. What you need is an authentic inter-
est that drives your explorations as you learn with the children. You should be
able to admit when you don’t know something as you guide children in search
of answers. With such modeling, children will be able to ask questions freely.
We can make two promises. First, no matter what your level of expertise,
you will learn something new from gardening with children. Second, you will
learn much more from your failures than you will from your successes, as long
as you’re willing to try again when things don’t work out as you had hoped.
As a teacher, you must be a role model of interest and curiosity. Your enthu-
siasm is essential if you want the children to be enthusiastic. And you must
express a sense of wonder if the children are to be free to express the same.
This shouldn’t be hard. Even avid gardeners still feel that sense of awe when a
shrub ﬁrst begins to bud after winter dormancy or when a half-inch seed pro-
duces a ten-foot sunﬂower.
In his book Sharing Nature with Children, Joseph Cornell (1998, 13)
suggests, “Teach less, and share more.” This is the best possible advice for
a teacher of young children. You can do this by telling stories about your
experiences with nature. Talk about your feelings rather than your knowl-
edge. Express the amazement you feel. Take cues from the children. Find the
delight that exists within you and share it. Express your disappointment when
things don’t turn out well. Follow that up with the determination to try again.
Provide abundant resource materials, and use them constantly. When you ﬁnd
a new insect, get out an insect reference book or go online to look it up. Even
if your classroom is high-tech, provide reference books. When you do, you’ll
ﬁnd children spend long stretches of time exploring them. Plus, children can
read reference books alone or with a friend, in the garden or the classroom,
without worrying that the books will get broken. Once, after looking up cica-
das and Japanese beetles with a teacher, two of our children spent another
thirty minutes looking through the book Bugs by Frank Lowenstein and Sheryl
Lechner. You are the key to a successful garden study. You don’t need to know all
the answers, but you must be curious, interested, and willing to help search
for answers. The garden should not be seen as a list of plant names to be
memorized or characteristics to be studied. Avoid trying to ﬁll the children
with information and following up with questions to test their knowledge. It’s
less important for children to learn facts about the garden than it is for them
to develop concepts. The children will learn naturally when they are intensely
involved. They will become intensely involved when you are able to model
enthusiasm and respond to their cues.
Be willing to let children explore incorrect answers. Part of the scientiﬁc
experience is testing hypotheses and dismissing them. Don’t be in a hurry to
Why Garden? • 15