Hope Preschool Promotes Active Learning In School Garden

As your family strolls through the Alaska junction this summer, take a detour and head to 42nd and Oregon to see what is growing in the Hope Lutheran preschool garden.

This spring our preschool 3s and 4s classes were hard at work learning about, planning and cultivating their garden space. Preschool 4s teacher, Jennifer Neafcy, describes the garden as an exciting avenue for active learning. “The children are involved in planning out the garden, deciding what they would like to plant, and preparing the garden for planting. We learn about what plants need to grow and how to take care of what we plant. Our garden goes beyond science skills and is also a springboard for math skills such as mapping, graphing and counting and for language arts skills such as reading books and writing about gardening and creating signage for what we have planted. Because gardens are constantly changing, children are provided an attractive way to become actively involved in their learning.”

“The garden at Hope was a great place for my preschooler to be creative,  learn all about nature, and get dirty. It was wonderful to hear about the mud pies being made, the bugs that were found and to see the artwork reflect their learning experiences in the garden.” – Dianne Szerlong, Hope Preschool Parent


Wooden playhouse surrounded by strawberries, apples and tomatoes.

The Bible tells us to be stewards of God’s Creation. The Washington State Early Learning Guidelines direct us to have children learn about their world through active exploration and experiences using their 5 senses. NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) directs us to teach children to learn to love the Earth and each other. In 2007 Hope began the creation of a garden from contractor rubble for our preschool program, incorporating biblical, state and NAEYC requirements which has become an integral part of student’s learning. From the “Mud pie Kitchen” to the hands-on plant and water cycle science; from the art and drama stage to the vegetable and fruit patches; the preschool garden has continued and will continue to evolve, and be a delight and learning platform for all our early childhood programs.

When the children arrive in the fall, the garden is exploding with fresh produce. They learn about harvesting the fruits and vegetables and using them in cooking in the classroom. During the spring, the garden is enthusiastically prepared for planting by weeding, digging and mapping out where seeds will be planted.

“What a wonderful change I see from the beginning of the year, when preschoolers would rather head out to the school’s big toy climber for recess, to the end of the year; when you hear them asking to go to the garden!” – Marie Tornow, Preschool Director

Preparing the soil for planting
Preparing the soil for planting

“Kids who were afraid of bugs, are digging for worms and showing gentleness and compassion holding a tiny ladybug,” remarked Marie. “Kids learn how open-ended spaces and materials lead to their own thoughts becoming real activities including problem solving, and team work. They learn there is a never ending supply of ideas with imaginative open-ended play.”

Making garden stakes
Creating garden stakes at the Mud Pie Kitchen

This highly qualified group of teachers, lead by Marie, has developed a program that not only educates young learners about how the environment works, but also teaches them the social tools they will need for the future. “I see them grow in cooperative play as well as self control, listening to each other and sharing ideas. The garden and nature is calming and is especially helpful for those children who need space and large muscle movement. The connection with nature through sensory exploration is one of the primary learning goals for brain development in ages 3-5 and the garden provides access to all of them; including the wonderful smells and tastes in the herb patch!  The garden not only feeds tummies, but feeds souls as well.“

Hope Lutheran’s preschool 4 program currently has openings in their afternoon class (12:15-3:15) Monday through Thursdays. Call the school office at (206) 935-8500 to schedule a school tour or visit our web site at www.HopeSeattle.org.

20140702_112439The garden space features:

•A stage area is available for singing, dancing and putting on plays.

•Art is abundant outside – mud painting, easel art, paint the small house with water, or splatter paint a mural – Jackson Pollack style.

•The large sandbox can transform into a river that can flow different directions, depending on the stroke of the shovel.

•In Mud Pie Kitchen stir up and bake mud/woodchips/sand/twig pies or soups.

•2 houses offer dramatic play areas. The tables are set, and mud pie is for dinner.

•Observe water pouring and dripping down the water wall.

•Create music with metal sticks and handmade wind chimes.

Marie Tornow, Preschool Director

Christina Figgins, Preschool 3 Teacher

Jennifer Neafcy, Preschool 4 Teacher