“Is it always quiet in the garden?” one student asked as her 5th grade class was leaving for the day. I thought about it a minute. I told her that the garden has a general calm to it so even when it is full of life and excitement, it still resonates calm and peace. “Is that the same as quiet?” she asked. “To me it is.” She looked at the garden and smiled. “Me too,” she said. The garden at 24th Street Elementary is the kind of place that calls you to sit and listen, or lose yourself in thought. And when you think about it, it’s the perfect place to have a Reading Club.
The final bell of the day rings out at 2:20 and by 2:30 a steady shuffle of 2nd and 3rd graders make their way into the garden. At this point of the day, the sun has pushed past its high rise and is laying a little lower in the sky. It leaves the garden with a warm glow, the perfect light for an afternoon of leisure reading.
Ms. Monica, our resident Reading Club volunteer, gathers chairs to set up behind the citrus grove, each chair nuzzled against the next, forming a tightknit circle. She has chosen the Laura Ingalls Wilder series of books based on frontier living to share with her Reading Club. Although written in the 19th century, these stories are highly relatable and lend themselves to discussions on comparing today’s food supplies to that of the frontier days, discipline practices and the education system. Each week there is a new lesson to learn from. The students take turns reading the chapters aloud. Each word read with intent and intrigue. The students are quickly developing relationships to the characters in these stories and in turn learning a little bit about themselves and the world around them.
One student decided to check out his very own copy from the school library so he could read along while others were reading aloud. They move through the stories slowly, sounding out new words and discovering their meanings in the dictionary.
After they read through a section of the story, they have the opportunity to re-create it. One week, they helped chop up apples and onions which were then browned in butter. This was to highlight a recipe that Laura’s family would eat during the winter and although the taste and concept was foreign to them, they bravely tried the new flavors. Another week, they built ice houses and discussed what life was like before refrigerators and freezers. What sorts of foods could you eat? How would you save them? What would life be like without such modern conveniences? Would we be healthier?
The children are growing in the garden. They are growing into avid readers and thoughtful creatures and are slowly discovering the new and the different. They are growing amongst the peace of nature. They are growing.