Circles of Learning and Square Foot Gardening

Working at Green Chimneys is a bit like being in a living laboratory. We host guests almost weekly from all around the world visiting our nature-based programs (wildlife, farm, equine and garden). There is such an interest in how Green Chimneys partners with animals and incorporates plants to help children; people from a range of professions tour campus to ask questions, quietly observe, and sometimes exchange anecdotes. Being able to share some of our methods, successes and ideas makes me feel connected to a brand of education and care that I totally believe in.

Another way that we support the growth of nature-based education, and in particular, horticultural therapy, is by hosting adult students from Horticultural Therapy programs such as the certificate program at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). First, the NYBG students are observers, then as they become familiar with our students and programs, they begin to become an extra set of hands, helping where needed. After some time, the NYBG students are encouraged to take ownership of an activity they plan.

Florence has one of the students graph out a square that could host 9 plants

Florence has one of the students graph out a square that could host 9 plants.

This week, one 5th grade class had a special lesson in square foot gardening, courtesy of Ms. Florence, an NYBG student who has been with us for the past few months. After some discussion about possible topics, square foot gardening seemed to be a good fit especially since Ms. Gassner’s class is working on fractions and has yet to be exposed to this particular mode of gardening which relies on planning and mathematics.

Jaylyn does some mental math

Jaylyn does some mental math.

We started out in the gazebo where Florence introduced the topic and purpose of square foot gardening. She has a really positive, fun energy, and I smiled to myself watching the faces of my students light up and look a bit amazed as she began to speak. Having the opportunity to be a bit of an observer gave me a chance to step out of my regular role of presenter and view things from a different perspective. Sort of like through the looking glass, I suppose.

Nicky draws carrots to illustrate where he will plant his seeds.

Nicky draws carrots to illustrate where he will plant his seeds.

Florence created a few visuals to assist her teaching, including a big, easy-t0- read chart which showed the students how many seeds of each crop could be successfully planted in a 12″ square. (For instance, 1 broccoli or 16 carrots.) Using their knowledge of division and multiplication, the students quickly started to get the hang of how to plant seeds for optimum yield in a small amount of space. I love when we hit the timing right, and the kids shout out, “Hey! We were just doing this in class!” As the students began designing their own square foot gardens, they didn’t realize they were reinforcing math concepts!

Nicky adjusts his bamboo to make a square.

Nicky adjusts his bamboo to make a square.

Eventually we moved into the garden to a 4’x4′ bed that Florence had prepped in advance. The class was split into two teams, and using pre-cut bamboo sticks, (4′ and 12″) they laid out their squares.

Next week we will plant the seeds that each child chose during their design time, and we will have a great example to show other visitors that come to the Children’s Garden just how square foot gardening works. And thanks to Florence’s lesson, our students will be amazing ambassadors in explaining how they divided and conquered square foot gardening.

There is a cyclical parallel in our garden; as the garden cycles through seasons of change and growth, so does our sharing of knowledge. We teach and others learn; they teach and we’re enlightened.



About Green Chimneys Garden

Green Chimneys was founded on the belief that children will benefit from their interaction with nature and animals. Horticulture comes to life in our educational school gardens, allowing Green Chimneys students to heal, learn, and grow. Learn more about about our nature-based approach to special education by visiting
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4 Responses to Circles of Learning and Square Foot Gardening

  1. zmusashi says:

    So wonderful to be one hub in a network of like-minded people with a healthy approach that involved nature and the miracle of life and growth.

  2. garden98110 says:

    This is truly exemplary work. It takes courage. And some ‘hard edge’ to be on the leading edge. You seem to hit a balance well. Though this is not at all as easy as it looks. As a result, a network educating the educators brings many benefits to your students unavailable in educational programs elsewhere. The benefit of your blog, is that an innovative demonstration program requires documentation. Not only for self evaluation, but for the benefit of others who admire your work and want to replicate it. I am so proud to be an alumnus. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for your support and encouragement. It’s interesting that you mentioned self evaluation. Writing this blog is as much for me as anyone, as it really does make me evaluate, through reflection, what we are doing, and what the kids are getting out of it. Usually, I feel like there is so much more we could be doing, but rather than feeling overwhelmed, I try and remind myself – one thing at a time. We are building something, and anything worthwhile takes time.

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