PEI

Sprouting knowledge: Garden buddies return to Charlottetown school

The "garden buddies" are back at Charlottetown's Prince Street School, and everyone is delighted — from the kindergarten kids pulling carrots to the adult volunteers sharing their time and knowledge.

Start with a Seedling program back at Prince Street School

Volunteer Jennifer Whittaker felt so strongly about the program that she went looking for funding so it could continue this year. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The "garden buddies" are back at Charlottetown's Prince Street School and everyone is delighted — from the kindergarten kids pulling carrots to the adult volunteers sharing their time and knowledge.

"I just love being with the little children and helping them learn about gardens," said Anne Nicholson, in her third year as a garden buddy.

"I can tell when we get there once a month that they're excited to see us."

During October's session, the students and volunteers headed to the Legacy Garden in Charlottetown to harvest carrots. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The garden buddies are part of a literacy research project called Start with a Seedling, created by Lyndsay Moffatt, an education professor at UPEI. 

It was launched in September 2014 and ran until June 2016, when financial support for the program ended.

It's just so important for the kids to be able to be outdoors and to be connected with where their food comes from and different people in their community.- Marilyn Carey

"It was very disappointing last year that we couldn't continue the program," said Jennifer Whittaker, who volunteered on the program since it started.

Whittaker applied to the P.E.I. Seniors' Secretariat and received enough funding to cover the cost of a volunteer co-ordinator and supplies, much to the delight of the volunteers who were eager to return.

"They were just ecstatic," Whittaker said.

"A lot of them are grandparents or were librarians, teachers — all have experience working with kids, so to be able to do that again was really great for them."

While some of the volunteers are seniors, there are also university students and newcomers to the Island. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The garden buddies are at Prince Street once a month, and the activities vary as the seasons change.

For October, the buddies were harvesting carrots they will peel, chop and cook next month. They were also planting sunflower seeds.

'Unique learning experiences'

"I was really amazed and had my eyes opened to how a community can work with teachers to bring these unique learning experiences," Whittaker said.

"It was really exciting for me to see how excited the volunteers are, how willing they are to share their knowledge with the class and how responsive the kids have been to the program. The cooking day is just amazing."

The kindergarten students are encouraged to ask lots of questions when they're in the garden to help foster their literacy skills. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Along the way, they students are learning about more than gardening.

"A lot of the kids are picking up a lot of things because they're working with their buddies, their adult buddies, mostly one on one," Whittaker said.

"They're getting this chance all day to ask lots of questions, which is part of the kindergarten curriculum."

Marilyn Carey, a teacher on maternity leave whose son is in kindergarten and part of the program this year, sees the impact it has on students.

"It's just so important for the kids to be able to be outdoors and to be connected with where their food comes from and different people in their community," she said.

Newcomer volunteers

"The older kids who participated, now in Grade 3, are still talking about it. When some of the garden buddies walk through the halls, they're smiling, they're waving to them, they've really built those relationships."

While many of the volunteers are seniors, there are also some university students and newcomers to P.E.I. who work with the kids.

"I think through this experience they'll know that food is precious," said Danielle Xu, a student in the UPEI education program.

The volunteers visit the school monthly and the activities change depending on the season. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

There has been interest from other schools, and organizers at Prince Street say they hope others will pick up the Start with a Seedling model and adapt it to their school.

"It's one thing to look at a book or to see something on television, but when you're out there and you're feeling the earth and seeing the worms and understanding how they grow," Nicholson said.

"It's a wonderful experience for them."

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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