By Katie Schulz-Ditchen, Special Education Teacher, Staunton City Schools

As an early-childhood special education teacher, I have been so fortunate to work with Nichole Barrows and the rest of the Project GROWS team at our school, Dixon Educational Center. We are Staunton City School District’s preschool center. Project Grows has helped Dixon make our school garden the most exciting place to be on campus!

Gardening gives children a chance to make new connections as they use all of their senses to interact with the natural world. Our students at Dixon have practiced all of their pre-academic skills gotten their hands dirty digging, filling pots with soil, snipping greens with scissors, carrying and pouring and refilling heavy watering cans and planting potatoes and seeds in the school garden and forming seedballs to take home and plant—all meaningful ways to help all children including those with sensory-processing or other learning differences as they experience new textures and get fine-and gross-motor work.

The children have used their eyes and ears to look and listen for all of the living things that make up our garden: bluebirds and chickadees nesting in our birdhouses, a cricket in the grass, ants carrying bits of leaves in a line across the sidewalk, shiny worms in the rain, the frogs and their eggs and now tadpoles in pond, the water rippling over the rocks.

Our preschoolers have wrinkled their noses at the taste of fresh mustard and chard and the smell of the fresh compost and the hyacinths. The children have counted out seeds, practiced their one-to-one correspondence planting one in each hole, and have estimated how tall each plant will grow and how long it will take to be ready to harvest. They have painted pictures, sung songs, and written stories about their experiences.

Dixon students monitored the chickadee and bluebird nests in the garden every week.

All of these have been new experiences for our students which have helped them begin what we hope will be lifelong love of their world and an appreciation for all of the things and people which work together to make the food on their tables at home. Thank you, Project GROWS, for helping our students and teachers fall in love with gardening!