Watching Things Grow

“I have a profound belief in plants as being very therapeutic and very magical for kids,” Ginny Burger says.

Ginny came by the Louis Braille School last month to teach the students about planting bulbs.

Ginny helps a student plant a bulb

A former high school biology teacher and now a master gardener, Ginny likes to plant bulbs and start gardens with elementary school children as a way of introducing them to a hands-on science lesson that embraces one of their all-time favorite playthings: dirt.

“I was touched by how fine it was that the kids get messy and dirty,” she says.

She brought protective table coverings in her car to keep classroom tabletops clean, but the teachers waved them off. “The teachers were so patient and encouraging,” she says.

“Their approach to the students was, ‘If you’re able to do this, do it for yourself.’ It was interesting to me to see the teachers work so hard to empower the students to do everything they could for themselves.”

Ginny had never worked with blind students before. The children at the Louis Braille School provided her with a new perspective on bulb planting.

Boy examining a bulb

“It’s a very tactile activity,” she says as she remembers one child’s experience. “He could feel the bulbs, feel the root even though it was dry, feel the start of the shoot, feel the soil.”

The students worked with tulip, daffodil, and crocus bulbs. They planted a fast-growing red amaryllis bulb with a sturdy stalk that is easy to feel.

Teachers’ assistant Miss Jennifer says, “It’s fun checking on the plants everyday. The kids get excited when there’s a little growth.”

Bulb in pot

Ginny also brought along paperwhite narcissus bulbs. “When the paperwhite narcissus bulbs bloom, they’re very fragrant,” Ginny explains, “so the kids will be able to smell as well as feel them.”

Students placed potting soil in pots—their favorite part of the job—and learned the proper depth bulbs should be planted beneath the surface of the soil.

Happy boy fills pot with dirt

They inserted toothpicks into other bulbs and suspended them over clear plastic cups. Then the cups were filled with enough water to reach the bottoms of the bulbs.

“The reason I like that,” Ginny says, “is that people can see [or feel] the roots growing, instead of them being hidden, which is a great learning experience.”

Bulb growing in water

The children found a worm while working with the soil, and that started a conversation with Ginny.

“One of the tendencies of this generation is that if they find something in the soil that moves, they should kill it,” Ginny notes. “So we had a little talk about what worms do for the soil and why we should put the worm we found back into the pot.”

She laughs before adding, “That became a well-loved worm.”

The master gardener continued to marvel and learned a few things herself as the project concluded. If she thought it remarkable that the children were allowed to work with soil without any worry given to it falling on or over the table, she was also impressed by the same attitude as it carried over to wash-up time in the bathroom.

“I was struck by the way the teachers didn’t mind having to wipe down the bathroom walls because they were muddy,” says the former high school teacher and counselor. “It was a very calm atmosphere, which was intriguing to me.”

Teacher Miss Beckie summed it up: “Our table was full of dirt, the floor was full of dirt—but everyone had fun.”

Ginny also credits the students for not losing interest in the project. “Their attention was held for a whole hour,” she remembers.

Weeks after the planting project, the children not only are checking the growth of their plants, but shout and exclaim excitedly about how much they liked playing and learning with dirt.

It’s something they would probably do every day if given the chance.

They will have a least one more opportunity this year to feel their fingers in the soil. Ginny has invited them to visit her backyard wildlife habitat this spring.

It could turn out to be a story of dirt lovers in paradise.

What a great way to learn.

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