Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bringing a Sense of Nature's Wonder to Kids: The Gardens and Grounds of Gibbs PreK Center

It would be hard to find anything more simply beautiful than a sunflower.  And, no flower says, "Kids!" like a sunflower, so it's a great way to introduce them to the beauty and wonder of nature.

A deep love of nature and science, together with the belief in the importance of instilling this understanding and appreciation in our children early in their lives, are what brought a mom and grandma to volunteer together at Gibbs PreK Center.  

Looking for the sunflower seeds, but they are not quite ready yet.
Miss Joan and Miss Betty make quite a team.  They met when they both had young ones at Gibbs Pre K over twenty years ago (Miss Joan a daughter and Miss Betty a granddaughter).  They became friends and then about ten years ago they approached the school about creating a garden for the school children.  

Now, ten years on, Miss Joan (maybe better known to most as botanist and SHSU Professor Dr. Joan Hudson) and Miss Betty (better known as retired science teacher and master gardener Betty Elvin) have helped introduce a generation of Huntsville children to the natural world around them, and to the joys of growing flowers, plants and trees.

In the shade of a peach tree...

The scope of their project has grown, too, as they have added birdhouses, plant trees and establish a wildflower meadow and teach a weekly class on gardening every Wednesday.

Fresh Picked Peaches from Gibbs Pre K Center's "Backyard"
The importance of introducing kids to nature is already established, but don't tell these kids it's good for them.  They like it because it is fun and interesting!

Gibbs Principal Dr. Martinez is showing off a Blueberry Tomato.
The dark color means they are rich in anthocyanins, the same thing that makes blueberries blue.
(These anthocyanins are believed to be among the reasons blueberries are good for you.)

Miss Betty now comes early every day to tend the garden and keep an eye on all that's growing. It's important to note that this project is supported by the work of the other folks who help them out, including the dedicated Martha Brown, Susan Sanders and Liz Willis

Texas Hibiscus

A little pumpkin nestled under the vines.

Purple Cone Flower 
With help from members of the local chapter of the Audubon Society, Miss Joan & Miss Betty were able to get bird houses built and installed for each class room.

A House for Every Room:  Each class room has a bird house- and it's usually a "full house."

Each Wednesday during the school year, every class is invited for a gardening class.
Weather permitting, the classes meet right here.
Each Wednesday throughout the school year, every class is invited to the garden class.  Throughout the day, hundreds of kids get to learn about gardening, and a whole lot more.

Since these current students weren't there when the trees were planted, Miss Betty has created an over sized  sketchbook to help tell the story.
On this page, Miss Joan is loading a Mulberry Tree from her property and loading into the car. 

The Gibbs Wildflower Meadow.  Mexican Hat is in season,
and earlier this year it was covered in Bluebonnet blossoms.
The Gibbs Wildflower Meadow is a field filled with native flowers.  Miss Joan estimates that, after the spring blooming Bluebonnets have gone to seed, the children were able to pick up over 5000 Bluebonnet seeds to take home and spread around Huntsville and Walker County.

Sort of like peas in a pod, wildflower style.  Texas Bluebonnet Seeds and their casing.

Veggies, Fruits and Flowers- oh my!!

A few years ago, the children planted trees to provide shade for their play area.
Each class planted a different type, which is smart way to plant
(and it coincidentally reflects the diversity of our town).

The Catalpa tree.
Out in front of the school is a Catalpa Tree.  Catalpa trees are native of Tennessee.  According to legend, Sam and Margaret Houston brought a few of these to Huntsville and planted them on their property.  She was said to enclose one of the tree's heart shaped leaves in letters to her husband when he was away in Washington, DC.  You can find these trees all around town.

Matthew Lahey  Huntsville ISD Huntsville Independent School District

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