In the garden

Helping to educate children
Nature can be easy to ignore, says Henrico Master Gardener Faye Derkits, especially when a young person has a demanding school and extracurricular schedule and also loves video games, texting, and television.

That’s why Derkits and co-chair Pat Baskind head up a group of about 25 Henrico Master Gardeners who last year taught more than 50 classes on garden topics to children in public, private, and home schools. They also set up activity tables at school fairs, led teacher workshops, and offered activities in school gardens.

Now, the Henrico Junior Master Gardener Committee chairs are setting up the schedule for this spring, working with educators north of the James River who invite them into their classroom.

“There’s a need to educate kids about the environment,” said Baskind. “Plus, the classes are usually a fun learning experience.”

The number of class sessions, times and length of classes, and topics depend on what teachers request. Past classes have focused on plant propagation, flowers, insects, birds, composting, soil, and bulbs.
One of the most popular classes involves vermicomposting, or composting with worms.

“Kids love worms,” said Derkits. “You may have to remind them that worms don’t have teeth and put the worms in cups, but kids always get interested when you have worms.”

“It also helps to show by example,” said Baskind. “When we put a worm in our own hand, kids are much more comfortable touching them themselves.”

The master gardeners have found that many children don’t have very much experience with nature. “So we focus on hands-on experiences rather than on handouts,” said Derkits. “We use handouts, but I like to help children see what is around them. I want them to actually stop and smell the roses.”

She advises parents to take their children for a walk to learn more about nature. “Don’t be in a hurry,” said Derkits. “Let your kids stop and smell, or stop and touch. Or better yet, carry a plastic jar, and let your kids see if there are things they want to collect.”

The master gardeners have worked with preschoolers through highschool-aged students. And, at fairs or plant sales, they often involve parents in the lessons.

“Parents often have as much fun as their children when they stop by our activity tables,” said Derkits. “They love making pinecone bird feeders or planting seedlings. And we hope that later, they continue the conversation about nature with their children.”

“Kids do learn from these activities,” added Baskind. “We know that’s happening, and hopefully, they become curious to know more.”

“Of course,” she added, “we do this because we like kids.”

To learn more or schedule a class, call the Henrico Extension Service at 501-5160.
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