Schools / Kids

PHOTOS: Seth​ ​Boyden School’s​ ​Garden​ ​Recess​ ​Continues​ ​to​ ​Grow

Who​ ​says​ ​children​ ​don’t​ ​eat​​ ​vegetables?

Let​ ​kids​ ​pick​ ​their​ ​own collard greens, then​ ​blend​ ​the leaves ​with​​ ​olive​ ​oil​,​ ​garlic,​ ​sunflower​ ​seeds​​, ​and lemon​ ​juice. Voilà: ​pesto​!​ ​Blend​ ​kale​ ​with​ ​apples​ ​and​ ​​berries​ ​​for smoothies.​ ​​Sauté ​collards​ ​and​ ​carrots​ ​with​ ​olive​ ​oil​ ​and​ ​salt​ ​for​ ​a​ ​tasty​ ​stir-fry.

Greens ​pesto​,​ ​kale​ ​smoothies,​ ​​stir-fry,​ ​​carrots,​ ​​tomatoes​, ​potatoes​ ​–​ ​all were​ ​served​ ​up​ ​this​ ​fall​ ​during​ ​Garden​ ​Recess at Seth Boyden Demonstration School.​ ​Each​ ​Friday,​ ​dozens​ ​of students​​ opted ​to​ ​spend​ ​their​ ​recess​ ​in​ the school’s produce garden, “​Strawberry​ ​Fields.”​ The kids​ ​harvested​ ​fruits, ​vegetables and herbs, ​pressed​ ​flowers,​ ​created​ ​garden​ ​art,​ ​and​ ​watched​ ​nature happen​ ​all​ ​around​ ​them.

“Seeing​ ​the kids ​want​ ​to​ ​learn​ ​during​ ​recess ​was​ ​a​ ​blast,” said​ ​Elizabeth​ ​Ebinger,​ a parent​ ​of​ ​​​ ​​three​ ​​girls​ ​at​ ​Seth​ ​Boyden​ ​and a​ devoted ​Garden​ ​Recess​ ​volunteer.​ ​One​ ​of the greatest​ ​assets of Garden Recess,​ ​she​ ​said,​ ​is​ ​the​ school’s head gardener ​Maggie​ ​Tuohy.

“That​ ​energy​ ​of​ ​hers​ ​is​ ​shining,”​ said​ ​Ebinger​ ​of​ ​​Tuohy,​ ​who​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​certified elementary​ ​school​ ​teacher.​ ​“She​ ​has​ ​the​ ​magic​ ​touch​ ​with​ ​the​ ​kids.” Tuohy’s four children have all attended Seth Boyden.

Tuohy​ ​said​ ​she​ ​finds​ ​inspiration​ ​from​ ​the​ ​children​ ​who​ ​choose​ ​Garden​ ​Recess. “There​ ​are​ ​some​ ​students​ ​who​ ​come​ ​to​ ​the​ ​garden​ ​every​ ​week​​ ​​​simply​ ​to make​ ​a​ ​connection,​ ​to talk​ ​and​ ​play​ ​quietly​ ​with​ ​the​ ​adults​ ​or​ ​other​ ​children​ ​in​ ​the garden. Others​ love​ ​to​ ​​search​ ​in​ ​the​ ​compost​ ​and​ ​under rocks​ ​and​ ​logs​​ ​for​ ​insects,​ ​salamanders ​and​ ​snakes.”​ Some students run ​into​ ​the​ ​garden to​ ​pull​ ​a​ ​carrot,​ ​paint​ ​a​ ​picture​ ​or​ ​taste​ ​some​ ​food​ ​before returning ​to​ ​their​ ​recess​ ​play.

Seth​ ​Boyden​ ​has​ ​the​ ​largest​ ​outdoor​ ​back​ ​yard​ ​space​ ​of​ ​any​ ​school​ ​in​ ​the South Orange-Maplewood School District. The Strawberry Fields produce garden forms part of Seth Boyden’s ​Outdoor​ ​Learning​ ​Center, which also includes an outdoor classroom, a performance circle, a large sundial, multiple play structures and a host of native plantings and trees.

Garden​ ​Recess​ ​has​ ​been​ ​around​ ​for​ ​​over​ ​​13​ ​years,​ ​reports​ ​Tuohy.​ Shortly after the​ re-​establishment​ ​of​ ​Seth​ ​Boyden​ ​as​ ​a​ ​demonstration​ ​school​ ​in 1999, the school’s​ ​grounds​ ​began to be​ ​redesigned,​ ​and​ Strawberry Fields took form.​ ​​The garden​ ​activities​ ​have​ ​evolved​ ​over​ ​the​ ​years​ ​as​ ​the​ ​parent​ ​community​ ​has​ ​changed, with each​ ​set​ ​of​ ​volunteer​ ​parents​ ​bringing​ ​what​ ​they​ ​love​ ​to​ ​the​ ​garden and passing along their methods and knowledge.​

Tuohy​ ​and​ ​Ebinger, who ​have been at the helm for the past few years, are both Master Gardeners (a designation received after completing an official university extension program). Their book Recipes for a Successful School Garden: A Guide for Parents and Teachers, inspired by their experience at Seth Boyden, will be released in June 2018.

The​ ​Outdoor​ ​Learning​ ​Center​ ​– “OLC” – continues​ ​to​ ​evolve. In the open-air classroom, which was completed last year largely through PTA fundraising and volunteer efforts, teachers now engage their students on STEAM topics and projects. On any good-weather day, a visitor here might encounter classes participating in a messy science experiment, exploring changes in the weather, writing at the outdoor tables, or holding a discussion in the performance circle, where a ring of flat rocks provides natural seating. The​ ​outdoor​ ​classroom​ ​has​ ​also​ ​become​ ​a​ ​favorite​ ​spot​ ​for children​ ​to​ ​sit,​ ​talk,​ ​and​ ​play​ ​during​ ​recess​.

In​ ​early​ ​December, architect and OLC committee chairperson Matthias Ebinger will lead a team of volunteers in a project to update Strawberry Fields. The initiative will replace the ​​current​ ​​aging​ ​​garden beds with more numerous, smaller beds​ ​that​ ​are​ ​more​ ​easily​ ​accessible​ ​to ​​student​ ​gardeners. Columbia High School student (and Seth Boyden alumnus) Joseph Badre will help to plan and build the new beds for his Eagle Scout Service Project.

Tuohy,​ ​who​ ​first​ ​pulled​ ​a​ ​carrot​ ​out​ ​of​ ​the​ ​ground​ ​when​ ​she​ ​was​ ​40,​ ​​​hopes that Garden Recess participants will “​find​ ​joy​ ​in​ ​their​ ​garden​ ​experiences – to ​wonder​ ​about​ ​what​ ​they​​ ​see, hear,​ ​feel​ ​and​ ​taste​. I want the students to know​ ​how​ ​to​ ​take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​the​ ​plants​ ​and creatures​ ​of​ ​our​ ​garden​ ​so​ ​that​ ​they​’re​ ​better​ ​able​ ​to​ ​take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​each​ ​other​ ​and our​ ​planet.​ ​​ ​I​ ​also​ ​want​ ​the​m​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​where​ ​food​ ​comes​ ​from​ ​and​ ​that they​ ​can​ ​grow​ ​the​ ​food​ ​that​ ​they​ ​eat.”​ ​As the collard pesto and kale smoothies demonstrate, kids are more inclined to try – and like – what they grow themselves.

Another benefit of Garden Recess is the opportunity for parents to see their children in action, and vice versa. Anna​ ​and​ ​Katja​ ​Ebinger​ ​enjoy​ ​Garden​ ​Recess​ ​in part because​ ​they​ ​get​ ​to​ ​hang​ ​out​ ​with​ ​their mom​ ​at​ ​school.​ ​Katja,​ ​a​ ​kindergartner,​ ​also liked picking flowers for her family and “painting​ ​a fake​ ​bird​ ​pink​ ​with​ ​white​ ​dots​ ​on​ ​it!”​ ​ Pumpkin​-spice​ ​sugar​ ​and​ ​banana​-apple​ ​smoothies ​were​ ​second-grader​ ​Anna’s favorite​ ​Garden​ Recess​ ​treats​.

Other projects​ ​planned for the​ ​near​ ​future​ ​include​ ​the creation of a “nature story trail,” a meandering pathway with informational placards for plants and trees, which will turn the OLC into the ​SOMA​ ​Children’s​ ​Arboretum. ​ ​The​ ​committee,​ ​which​ ​consists​ ​solely​ ​of​ ​Seth​ ​Boyden parents,​ ​is​ ​also​ ​reviewing​ ​designs​ ​for​ ​permanent​ ​shades​ ​for​ ​the​ ​outdoor​ ​classroom.

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