Everett Outdoor Classroom Offers Kids Lessons “In the Dirt” – Advice Eating

EVERETT — Brennan Dreghorn, 8, spent last Friday afternoon planting tomatoes, lettuce and snow peas. It was Brennan’s first day in the new outdoor garden and classroom at Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center.

“This is one of the first times this year that they’ve gotten out and in the dirt,” said Tomorrow’s Hope coach Amanda Slingluff. “They are really excited.”

Students celebrated the garden’s grand opening on Earth Day in Everett. Tomorrow’s Hope director Mandy Cheever said the center plans to use it as an outdoor classroom to deliver science, nutrition and sustainability classes to preschool and school-age students up to 12 years old.

“They’ll also be working on their fine motor skills with their hands, getting in there and planting with the soil,” Cheever said. “You will learn how to work with other students. There are many things we can work on with them in an outdoor classroom.”

GroundWorks landscapers spent a week building the garden in an area previously used for storage. They removed weeds and trash and designed and built raised beds, said GroundWorks director Jim Gabriel.

“This garden area has been an (eyesore) for a while,” Gabriel said. “We wanted to do something to improve it.”

Tomorrow’s Hope and GroundWorks are social enterprises owned by the non-profit organization HopeWorks. The mission-oriented companies also serve as professional training programs for non-profit organizations.

JR Stalkfleet holds a plant while waiting for a hand trowel in the new outdoor classroom at Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center on Friday, April 22, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The landscapers plan to return about once a month to teach the students about caring for the plants. Gabriel said they would teach the children “gardening, plants and what it takes to grow food.” Derik Meredith, director of maintenance at GroundWorks, said the most important lessons for students to remember are pruning and watering.

“I hope that GroundWorks will mentor them so that they not only learn about plants, but what[Gabriel]and his crew do throughout the day,” Cheever said.

Slingluff said students can learn about predator-prey dynamics by observing spiders in the garden. Rainy days could trigger a lesson on the water cycle as students see how the water affects their plants and then evaporates into the clouds.

“The garden is just a fantastic place for any type of class, but especially for the science and observing these plants over the course of a year,” Slingluff said. “Part of the process is that some of these plants will not survive. This is also an important lesson. You have to learn to care for living beings and see them grow in different ways.”

Brennan Dreghorn waters new plants in the new outdoor classroom at Tomorrow's Hope Child Development Center April 22 in Everett.  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Brennan Dreghorn waters new plants in the new outdoor classroom at Tomorrow’s Hope Child Development Center April 22 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Slingluff said growing vegetables also gives kids a chance to connect with their food.

“This is an opportunity for them to see how much work goes into sourcing a salad,” Slingluff said. “It doesn’t seem easy. It must be dug out of the ground, harvested and cultivated. It creates that appreciation for their food as well as for the workers who devote their lives and livelihoods to growing food for us.”

Children are allowed to use food from the garden in cooking classes.

“We don’t just grow food to waste,” Cheever said. “We want the kids to experience it.”

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a member of the Report for America Corps and writes for The Daily Herald on issues affecting the working class.

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