Big Ideas Build Healthy Children, Families, and Communities

Big Ideas Build Healthy Children, Families, And Communities

Tue 03 Jul 2012

Story by Julie Toth

“Mom, did you know that strawberries are roses? Well not exactly, but they are in the same family. And, when you smell a strawberry flower it smells like roses, and then a strawberry grows. Did you know that the strawberry got its name from pioneers that covered the wild plants with straw to protect them from the winter?”

“Dad, did you know that our green beans are called Mayflower beans because the pilgrims brought seeds with them on the boat when they came to the New World?”

Parents often relay conversations they have with their children about the Countryside Montessori Charter School (CMCS) garden. Some are quite comical, but most parents are astonished that their child ate something GREEN and liked it!

I will never forget taking a few parents on a tour through the garden. One student reached out, pulled a lettuce leaf off of a plant, and ate it in front of his dad. The dad’s jaw nearly dropped to the ground. With a huge smile on his face, he asked me how in the world I motivated his son to eat that, and mentioned something about the countless times lettuce had been placed on his son’s plate with no luck in finding its way to the child’s stomach. The answer was easy. The student was given the opportunity to plant it, watch it grow, protect it, measure its growth, write in a journal about it, and take pride in it. Of course he would eat the fruits of his labor!

A Garden With Vision & Passion

Countryside Montessori Charter School’s hydroponic garden began with vision and passion, a living laboratory concept that incorporates math, science, language arts, and history; the finest example of Montessori learning. The idea was brought before the PTO and quickly approved with funding. Each year the curriculum has a new focus such as growing only heirloom varieties that had a story (Mayflower beans, Rocky Top lettuce mix, and Cherokee Purple Tomato). The following year dealt with companion planting, good bugs/bad bugs, and how they work together. Yet the curriculum is not what makes this program unique. While it is part of the daily activities, like PE, art, music, and spanish, this garden was created by parents, fueled by parents, and taught by parents. It is the sharing of time and talents with our young students, their joy and amazement in nature, the thrill of learning something new, and a passion for teaching our children how to care for themselves that has kept it growing and expanding into what will be our best year yet!

In the coming school year, we will introduce a new addition to the program. This is an invitation to grow healthy children, families, and community. We will teach the building blocks for complete wellness: nutrition, exercise, stress relief, and how to grow organically at home. Our young gardeners will grow countless herbs, discover where they came from, and how each have been used over the centuries. We will whip up some tasty treats and share recipes to take home. We will challenge parents to reduce the amount of processed and refined foods they send for lunch as well as in their daily routine. We will educate our community with monthly newsletters throughout the school year. CMCS is reshaping school events to accommodate healthy food choices. With the help of a local physician who practices Integrated Medicine, we will offer seminars on how the garbage we take in affects our bodies.

While parents play a tremendous role in the garden, it would not be possible without the CMCS administration. We are so blessed to have Ms. Denise Ondina and Ms. Lori Spurr. It is their open-minded, gracious nature that allows a parent to approach them with an idea and make it possible. It is their dedication to the children that allows for community and family to blossom from a seed called school into something that people want to be a part of.

Only time will tell what other ideas will grow from our garden, but with our vision and passion I am sure it will be something grand!

About Countryside Montessori Charter School: CMCS is located in Land O Lakes, Florida. It is home to 250 students in grades 1-6. CMCS is recognized as a High Performing Charter School and its students consistently out-perform students in the state and the nation in critical subject areas. In August 2012, CMCS will open the Secondary I program (grades 7-8). STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) will be integrated into the curriculum. Our gardens will continue to play a large role in the lives of these students. CMCS will continue to excel in providing a world-class Montessori education. To implement these exciting new ideas, we are in need of funding. State, local, and parent funding provide a portion, but it is only by reaching out that we can make great strides.

About the author: Julie Toth is a wife, mother, founder, and curriculum developer of the garden program. Julie also organizes an organic foods co-op.


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