(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 6, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

I thought about what I was going to teach kids who are 6-7 years old. I reviewed the Jr. Master Gardeners handbook. This program is designed for 4th-5th grades. How much if it would a 2nd grader retain?

I decided that I would make up my own lesson plan, something that would be fun for the kids and they could learn something from.

For the first session I picked leaves from 4-5 species of trees, I chose hardwood, softwood, conifer and deciduous. I picked enough so that each child would be able to take each home. I passed them out and gave the class the name of the tree and some of the things that the tree was used for... Example Maples are used for furniture, bowling pins, flooring and sugar maples provide maple syrup.
I explained the difference between conifers and deciduous.

I then assigned them the task of searching their neighborhoods to see how many of the trees they could identify.
When I returned a few weeks later I was curious, did the kids look for any of the trees; or they just ignore the assignment and went about their business? When I walked into the classroom almost every hand went up, “hey, Mr. Paul, I found every tree you gave me, Hey, Mr. Paul I found 3 of the trees in my own yard.” I thought to myself this is going to be fun.

I do have to say the teachers that I work with have been very cooperative. I try to fit my lessons into their overall lesson plans. They were studying how to help the environment so I decided to set up a vermi-composting bin and teach them about recycling.

I got a plastic tote box and set it up as a worm bin. I brought it to class and let the kids shred the newspapers, fill the bin, add the soil and pour in the worms. Each day they added bits of their lunch scraps; apple cores, banana peels and other fruit, and vegetable scraps. I explained to them how recycling helps to reduce the impact on landfills and how it helps the environment.

The teacher relayed to me at the parent teacher conferences how many of the kids had gone home with the question, “hey mom and dad, how come we don’t recycle. Hey mom we have to start recycling to save the earth.
I thought to myself maybe I am getting through to them.

I wanted to give them some exposure to growing things so I thought starting some cuttings would be a good idea. I chose coleus because they are almost foolproof and develop roots quickly.

I brought in a mother-plant and let the class cut their own start and remove the leaves and place it into the pearlite. I instructed them to check the moisture everyday and do not let it go dry.
Upon my return I was immediately informed 100% rooting success and we are ready to pot them up.

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Adding worm compost to the potting soil

I constructed a small light stand using a fluorescent light as a grow light stand.

For a Mother’s Day gift each child was going to make an “upside down” tomato plant as a gift for mom. They were going to start their tomatoes from seed. Decorate the hanging pot and plant it. They nurtured the seeds and grew the plants. The pots were decorated very nicely.

The week before Mothers day we planted the gifts, carefully inserting the tomato plant in the bottom of the basket. Filling it with potting soil in which the year’s supply of worm compost had been mixed, and topping the pot off with a nice planting of petunias. These were a proud bunch of kids.

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lThis isn't so hard

The feedback on this project was fantastic, some of the moms had tears in their eyes, they were so proud of the kids and what they had learned.

Each Arbor Day I get one of the local garden centers to donate a tree to plant on the school grounds. I tell the ids that in 25-30 years they can bring their children by to show them the tree they planted while in the 2nd grade.

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Arbor Day tree plantigA

The American Rose Society holds an essay/art contest each year for school children across the county. Several of “my kids” won recognition for this contest.

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ARS contest winners showing off their entries.
I’m starting my 5th year dong this program, a brand new class eager to learn about growing things. I’m as eager as they are to get things started.

Often I will run into kids from the previous classes, some are in the 6th and 7th grade now. It’s always “hey, Mr. Paul, you should see my flower garden, or WOW I grew these huge tomatoes”. Meetings such as these make it all worthwhile.

I have concluded that if I can reach 1 or 2 kids out of a class of 25-30 to instill a love of gardening that I have been successful. If after I’m long gone one of “my kids” thinks back on their 2nd grade years and remembers that Mr. Paul taught me how to do that I will have a smile on my face.

If you ever have the opportunity to teach kids how to grow things, jump on it. You will find it most rewarding; be careful though it can become habit forming!