Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Emergent Curriculum in Action

As I looked to bridge the long summer days spent outside in the Pacific Northwest with our annual return to the classroom in early September, I decided to create a small science corner with a display of seeds and seed pods, along with containers of fall blooming flowers. The idea was to generate conversation and begin the habits of careful observation and inquiry.  The display also gave me a chance to get to know the students in the North Room as I listened and watched them interact with the natural materials, tools to assist in observation, and with each other. It turns out that small seed, planted in late August as we prepared the classroom for students has been watered and fed and is really starting to germinate.

First day in the field with science journals.
 In the weeks that followed families brought in seedpods from their gardens for students to explore. We opened them and counted and sorted seeds. We looked at the different shapes and learned about the many ways seeds travel. So far this year we have taken weekly trips to many of the local parks, including the Colman Park P-Patch. In the parks we looked closely at plants and leaves and seed pods and thought about the ways they grow. We considered their variety as we drew the many interesting shapes.

In the classroom students use both the eye and hand to help them see.
Both inside and out we have been reading books about seeds and plants. We have generated lists of questions about seeds. As we practice asking questions, we hold off on finding quick answers so we can grow more comfortable with the process of inquiry. What at first glance looks like a simple question with a quick answer, given some time, can bloom into a question that scientists have already spent hundreds of years exploring. It is exciting to join this group and feel the connection with those who have asked these questions before us. All the while we are learning to listen to each other. One question leads to the next, a related question that is clearly following a shared path of inquiry.

Our first visit to the Colman P-Patch led us to wonder about the Lake and Park School having a garden of our own. Like the City and Country School that inspired Camille to found Lake and Park, we all felt we could learn so much if we were able to add an outdoor “classroom” in the form of a garden we can tend throughout the seasons. The P-Patch has the space available and the students are enthusiastic as we begin to plan and to prepare the beds and paths, and to learn what it takes to make a garden grow. We hope our whole school community will want to be involved.

Stephanie gives primary grade lesson in plant life cycle
Already Walter’s Aunt Stephanie, a Seattle Tilth educator and local gardener, has visited the classroom, bringing scarlet runner bean plants for exploration and dissection. This was a perfect plant to use to introduce the plant life-cycle because on a single plant we could see both the blossoms and the pods. Children picked the pods and opened them to reveal the beans/seeds. Stephanie answered children’s questions and inspired more questions such as, “where does water come from anyway?”

Making plans at the garden.

And so our curriculum grows, turning and winding as the children’s skills and understanding develop.  The prospect of tending our own garden together now exists like a seed in the good soil our inquiry has created. We all share the anticipation and excitement of helping it thrive.

A garden is a natural focus for building community. With a common purpose, everyone contributes meaningfully. As we nurture the plants in our garden, and eventually provide our own snacks and food, we also support each other as creative thinkers and doers.

Please consider ways you might participate in the Lake and Park Garden at the Colman P-Patch. we welcome comments and suggestions.
Weeding and measuring.
Please share your ideas in the comment section below.


  1. The P-Patch project has been a wonderful learning opportunity for my daughter! Her dad is a gardener and has helped with clearing the plots, so this has helped Sally feel like a contributor to the project. Also, she loves being outside and learning about how it is we can shepherd plants along and work with the earth to make it productive and beautiful. She has the long-term view of it, and it talking excitedly about what the garden will be like in the Spring. It is a perfect project for a child of her age because she is able to participate fully, work productively, help the younger kids with their work, and plan for the use of the patch. In the Spring, she will see the results of her hard work. Also, it has really been a bonding experience for her and her dad, the avid gardener. They have been talking about the P-Patch and sharing ideas about it. Wonderful!
    Thanks, Eileen!

  2. Rowan is loving the P-Patch! He particularly enjoys running along the paths with a wheelbarrow and is very proud of the three "man-sized" loads of wood chips he hauled the other day. He has memorized the combination to the storage shed and intends to surprise Eileen by unlocking it next time you're there. He wrote it down carefully and spent a while chanting the combination to himself, and learned a mnemonic device to help him remember it. Rowan showed me Speedy's grave - I think it's important and comforting for the children to know where she is buried. It adds a special and personal element to the P-Patch.

    We have dropped off more hay and burlap for sheet mulching. We look forward to seeing how the soil is improved over the winter and to what emerges in the spring!


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