It’s tough to teach manners in a garden…

I wear many hats as an educator. At any given time I could be the librarian, the director, the camp counselor, the entertainment, the rule-enforcer, the “it” when playing tag, the teammate, the devil’s advocate, or the friend. But in the summer I am also the gardener. I manage the large garden bed in the back yard, all of the potted plants on the deck and steps, and this year I am also in charge of two smaller beds at the community garden down the street.

Something that has been a challenge for me as a garden educator is teaching kids how to respect the plants. Garden manners if you will.

Last summer I was trying to grow sugar baby watermelon in containers on the deck. From tiny seedlings, I supported these plants (with minimal help from uninterested kids) as they grew, blossomed, and eventually produced lots of teeny tiny watermelon babies. I feel like maybe you all can sense a tone shift coming… I’m afraid this story doesn’t have a happy ending…

I came to work early one day to check on the garden before summer camp, only to find all of the baby watermelons missing, and several of them broken on the deck and thrown about the yard. It was heartbreaking.
I mourned… but I wanted to find a way to show the kids that what they had done, potentially with very little malicious intent, really hurt my feelings, and ruined a lot of hardwork that had gone into growing these young plants.
Luckily, I am as dramatic as I am crafty. (watch the video)

 

This year, I am facing similar difficulties in keeping little hands away from fragile growing fruits and veggies! Specifically my tomatoes have been picked too early to use as artillary in backyard vegetable fights… It’s really discouraging, especially because the gardens are a part of the summer camps, and we will need all of those tomatoes to turn red if we want to make yummy salsa with the kids in a few weeks!

 

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I plan on pointing out these signs as I see kids playing in the backyard, just to show that we are paying attention to the plants, and they belong to someone. Do any of you have ideas as to how else I could create a culture of respect around the garden? Have you ever had similar problems?
I would love to hear any stories, ideas, or suggestions!

They All Saw A Cat

Fridays at the library are “Small Fry Fridays”. Tiny humans and their grown ups line up at the doors awaiting a morning filled with stories, maker crafts, snack and free play. It’s one of our more successful programs, as it combines several initiatives into one day full of activities for PreK kids and their families. 

With the Picture Book Maker Craft Project well underway, I am trying to make more visible connections between the book read during story time, and the hands-on activity done during Mini Makers. This week, the kids read the book “They All Saw A Cat” by Brendan Wenzel. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with picture books, this book is ah-mazing. It explores how different animals all see the same thing, a cat, in very different ways.  A child, a mouse, a dog, a bumblebee, a goldfish… all seeing a cat from different perspectives. I have plans to work with slightly older kids (k-2nd grade-ish), reading the story and exploring looking at something through different “lenses”, but with my mini maker crew, I changed the project a bit to fit my audience. 


After reading the book with our partnering librarian Ms. Jan, the kids came to a table covered in construction paper and oil/chalk pastels. I simply asked them to draw a cat, highlighting the passage of the book “the cat walked through the world, whiskers ears and paws.” I really loved seeing how the grown ups helped their kids with the project, allowing them to interact with the materials, but continuing to ask “Where are the whiskers? Where are the paws?” 


It seemed like a simple project, but I find that something really valuable happens when the hands-on exploration connects to the early literacy experience of listening to a book. 

What is the Picture Book Maker Craft Project?

I realized I never explained what this project even is! Apologies! 

Basically, I design book-based maker projects/crafts, print them on stickers, and place those stickers inside of the books in our collection. Each book containing a maker project is marked with a lime green spine sticker, allowing for perusing patrons to spot them from the shelf. This initiative is really fun to work on, and has provided lots of interesting opportunities for collaboration.

Because of the small size of the MCL, our children’s collection really dominates the space. So far all of the books with prompts inside are picture books, but I have plans to include graphic novels, YA fiction, and juvenile/adult nonfiction. My hope is that by creating a clear line between hands-on learning and literacy, “informal” educational institutions, like the Millvale Community Library, will be able to fill the voids caused by cuts to arts programming in schools. The prompts are inside of books that can be checked out and taken home, expanding the reach of my maker program. It also creates opportunities for connections book-based and maker-based learning. 

So far we have 12 titles with maker project stickers inside. The prompts vary from step-by-step instructions to open-ended explorations, and they are based on everything from the content of the story to the style of illustration. I’ve had visiting educators design projects based on books that could work in their learning environments or classrooms.

My plan is to develop the collection at the MCL and make the stickers available for purchase. I would love to see this project exist in a world outside of Millvale, and reach learners and educators in lots of different spaces.

I have a stack of project ideas created by a few awesome educators who came for the Agency by Design cohort meeting. I used this project as a design challenge, getting the educators to pick a book and create a hands-on learning prompt inspired by it in some way. Some of the ideas were really amazing, and I was so excited to see them in the books!  

Is this something you would find useful? Do you have any ideas for book-based maker projects? Let me know!  

National Poetry Month at the MCL

I’m not much of a poet, but I love getting the chance to work with other creative ladies, and April was all about poetry… and with local poet, it’s also about pizza.

This was the second year of Steph’s annual project, Pizza Poems PGH. Last year she worked with her students at Brashear High School to write poetry and make illustrations inspired by pizza. A few weeks ago we set aside an afternoon to make pizza stamps, write poetry about pizza, and of course, eat pizza. It took a little coercing to get the kids interested in poetry, but the results were really awesome. I had the kids make the stamps with craft foam hot glued to pieces of cardboard and foam core… Pizza was the perfect inspiration to get them thinking about printmaking in layers. Sauce, cheese, crust, toppings… easy ways to think about building up layers of color, and flavor!

Last week was the event, we partnered with a local food truck, Driftwood Oven. Their pizza is seriously my weakness. We set up a table next to the food tent and as people enjoyed their pies and beer, Steph and I encouraged them to make some printed pizza patches and contribute to a collaborative poem. It was a pretty great evening. 

The following day just happened to be Poem in Your Pocket Day, a national initiative where everyone is encouraged to keep a poem in their pocket to read or distribute. Another fab collaboration came about as a result of Steph’s shower realization from the week before. “What if we made poetry fortune tellers!” So, that’s exactly what we did! Steph picked the poets and poems to be featured in the cootie catcher, and I designed the actual artifact. I made about 100 copies and spent a chunk of time folding them… my 5th grade self was giddy at the thought of folding fortune tellers at work. Available at the front desk of the library and the neighboring tea shop, our funky take on Poem in Your Pocket went home with a bunch of excited poetry-lovers.

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The PDF is available here for anyone who wants to print one and make it themselves!