Archive | May, 2011

1st graders end the year showing off potatoes

26 May

Last week, the first grade classes finished up their weekly classes in the Titan Gardens with two activities.  The first was the harvesting of the potatoes.  Even though it is a bit early for the harvest, we wanted the kids to get a chance to dig up their potato plants. Since we had a few varieties of potatoes, we knew that one class’ harvest might differ from another.

All but one class had multiple potatoes on the plants they dug up.  And the one that didn’t have as many on all of their plants?  It was the class that had the tallest potato plants all season, “Yukon Gold” variety.   We discussed with the kids how plants can put energy toward growing tall or producing fruits and vegetables, but sometimes they don’t have enough energy to do both in such a short period of time. And sometimes our growing seasons don’t match up perfectly with our school season, so we were definitely digging these guys up a bit early. 

Here they are proudly showing off their potato plants with the little potatoes sticking out. 

So maybe not enough for potato salad for everyone, but we had a blast growing them.  Moms and dads, don’t be surprised when your little one starts sneaking potatoes out of the kitchen and planting them in the ground.  You just might wait to see if anything comes up!

Expansion Plan for the Titan Garden

25 May

Exciting things have been happening in the Titan Gardens at River Place Elementary.  Over the past few months, we have been piloting an idea to incorporate weekly outdoor class time in the Titan Gardens teaching activities that reinforce in-classroom curriculum.  Some of our lessons have included measuring area, understanding how insects use their senses, learning how interdependent plant and animals are in a habitat, observing native plants, learning how to read a thermometer, collecting data and creating charts and understanding how plants life cycles.

With the school adminstration’s support, we have proposed a plan to expand this weekly class program next year.  In order to support the program, we have also proposed to expand the physical footprint of our garden and our plan has been approved by Leander ISD.  That’s our expansion plan up above (click on it to get a better look) and we are thrilled that it would offer more for our program like an outdoor classroom structure, compost bins, rainwater harvesting, food growing beds, native plantings, and an herb bed. 

In addition, last week we heard from Malt-O-Meal that the Titan Gardens had won the grand prize in their Greenest Classroom, an award of $2500.  This is a huge first step for us to begin our expansion project and we thank Malt-O-Meal for this incredible award and thank all of the teachers, parents, students, and friends who supported us by voting and keeping us in the top 10 to advance to the judged portion of the contest.

A great way to end the school year!

4th graders eat like birds in the garden

23 May


In early May, a few 4th grade classes went out to the garden with birds on their mind.  When they arrived in the garden, they had a snack waiting for them composed of foods that a bird would eat.  

Included on the menu was popcorn, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, worms (the gummy kind, not the dirt-covered kind) and peanut butter.  They also enjoyed sipping nectar from juice boxes.  While enjoying their bird-licious snacks, garden volunteers discussed what native Texas birds eat each of these treats and shared some facts about native Texas birds like cardinals, mockingbirds, hummingbirds and blue jays.

After snacking, the classes took some time to observe changes in the 4th grade planting bed, seeing how the seeds of the bluebonnets had formed and were beginning to dry and how other plants had begun to flower. 

Our plants move on to other gardens

10 May

Last summer, as school was just around the bend, we got busy cleaning out the grade level beds at the Titan Gardens so grades cold start fresh in the fall for planting. But what to do wth all of the great plants? It just so happened that two girl scouts were working hard with the Travis County Master Gardeners to create a children’s garden at the Austin Children’s
Shelter. So we compared lists and happily donated whatever plants of ours could be used in their planned new garden.

I am happy to announce that the Children’s Garden project has won those two girl scouts the Gold Award, the highest award given by the organization. The chldren’s garden offers a wonderful environment for both mothers and their children to enjoy nature. So it should give us pride to know that our plant donations from the Titan Garden have found a new garden in which to pay a yet another part in chldren’s lives.

Ten Nature Activities for Kids and Adults

4 May

With Summer fast approaching, lots of kids will use their summer freedom to catch up on video games and sleep late.  That’s all fine in moderation, but YOU can help your child get outside by offering activities that you can do together.  The below article is reprinted from the Children and Nature Network blog.  Let it inspire you to be your child’s nature teacher this summer.  And feel free to come by the Titan Garden to do some exploring this summer.  

Got dirt? “In South Carolina, a truckload of dirt is the same price as a video game!” reports Norman McGee, a father in that state who bought a small pickup-load of dirt for his daughter and friends. As McGee’s photo shows, the dirt was a great success. I told his story a couple years ago in this space. The story is worth repeating. So is Liz Baird’s idea — along with a few new ideas.

Liz  keeps a ” wonder bowl” available for her children. When Baird was a little girl she would fill her pockets with natural wonders—acorns, rocks, mushrooms.
“My Mom got tired of washing clothes and finding these treasures in the bottom of the washer or disintegrated through the dryer,” Liz recalls. “So she came up with ‘Liz’s Wonder Bowl,’ and the idea was that I could empty my pockets into the bowl. I could still enjoy my treasures, and try to find out what things were, and not cause trouble with the laundry.”

What’s your family doing in the coming months, not only to help your kids be healthier, happier and smarter — but you too? Here are ten suggestions:

1. Think simple: Create a wonder bowl like Liz’s, or buy a pickup load of dirt, like Norman did. Some of the best places to play, and toys, are the simplest and least expensive. Did you know that the National Toy Hall of Fame has inducted the cardboard box and the stick?
2. Start a Family Nature Club. Download C&NN’s guide to creating a network of like-minded families who want to get their kids outside, but need the support of others to help make that happen. It’s a new form of social networking! New: The Family Nature Guide is now also available in Spanish.
3. Invite native flora and fauna into your life. Maintain a birdbath. Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Build a bat house. For backyard suggestions, plus links to information about attracting wildlife to apartments and townhouses, see the National Audubon Society’s Invitation to a Healthy Yard.
4. Encourage your kids to build a tree house, fort, or hut. But don’t do it for them. You can provide the raw materials, including sticks, boards, blankets, boxes, ropes, and nails, but it’s best if kids are the architects and builders. The older the kids, the more complex the construction can be. For understanding and inspiration, read Children’s Special Places, by David Sobel.
5. Suggest  camping in the backyard. Buy them a tent or help them make a canvas tepee, and leave it up all summer. Join the NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout.
6. Become a Natural Leader. Being a nature mentor isn’t just a job for parents and grandparents. Young people helping other young people get outside is catching on. For example, in Mississippi, teenager Josh Morrison founded Geeks in the Woods with his friends. He defines ” geek” as a ” gaming environmentally educated kid,” and says he and his friends—” tired of being labeled” tech addicts—can have their PlayStations and their outdoor time too.
7. Find a guide book. Consider “I Love Dirt,”; Joseph Cornell’s classic “Sharing Nature With Children”; and “Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.”

8. Go online. Take a look at the growing number of good online guides for parents. Among them: the free online Parents’ Guide to Nature Play offered by the Green Hearts Institute. Our sister Web site, Nature Rocks, created in alliance with ecoAmerica, the Nature Conservancy, REI, the American Camp Association, and other groups, offers a “family fun nature planner” designed to help you find all sorts of nature activities, plus tools to help guide and plan your adventures, including a Family Nature Staycation guide. Also, a “Find Nature” feature — plug in your ZIP code and find out about nature activities near your home.
9. Join the movement. This month, all of C&NN’s partners and initiatives are uniting for a major push not only to get people of all ages outside, but to encourage service projects to benefit the naturalworld as part of the process—it’s called Lets G.O.! (Get Outside). You’re encouraged to join one of the already scheduled Let’s G.O.! events, or organize your own — and post it on C&NN’s map of activities.
10. Relieve your stress. All the health benefits that come to a child come to the adult who takes that child into nature. Children feel better after spending time in the natural world, even if it’s in their own backyard. So do adults, who have Nature-Deficit Disorder, too.

Richard Louv is founding chairman of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which includes 100 Actions that families and communities can take. His newest work is “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.”

How does our garden grow?

3 May

Last week, the first graders got up close and personal with the plants in the Titan Gardens.  Armed with magnifying glasses, their assignment was to observe a specific plant with their team up close to notice things about it.  Did it show signs of being used as food or shelter for insects?  Was it flowering?  Had it produced seeds yet?  What shape were the leaves?  How were the leaves arranged on the stem?

They have been learning about the different stages of plant growth in their classroom so investigating to find out what stage a specific plant was at in the garden helps them to put their lessons to work in the real world. 

We have continued to tend to our potato plants- noticing that some of them are REALLY growing big necessitating more lumber to be added to the potato tower so we can add leaf mulch around the stems where the potatoes will be produced.  And we have continued charting the growth of our beans-practicing gathering data to use in a bar chart.  Between the 4th and 5th week of measuring, our beans nearly doubled in size, surprising most everyone who predicted growth would slow down.  Now, if only those beans will come out before the end of school!!

Help us make the Titan Garden even better!

2 May

Thanks to all of the parents, teachers, administrator and volunteers who help us make the Titan Gardens program work.  We love the impact we can have on students and are aiming even bigger for the next school year. 
And that is where everyone can help us-our school garden needs your help!   We are entered in the Malt O Meal Greenest Classroom contest showing how our proposed new outdoor classroom would be a great example of green education, using recycled materials, rainwater harvesting and composting.  The grand prize is $2500 and we have a great shot at winning.  You can vote for our submission once a day every day until May 15th .  Only the top 10 vote-getters advance to be judged for the prize.  
Please click here to vote.  We are the entry titled “Help Us Develop the Green Thumbs of Tomorrow” and just click on the “Vote Now” to cast your vote.  And remember, you can vote every day until May 15th.
Also, please help us by sending this link to your friends or colleagues who would consider supporting us and having them vote for us as well.  $2500 would be a fantastic funding opportunity for our program. But if we don’t get the votes, we are not even considered in the judging. 
Thanks for your help in moving us forward!