Monday, July 18, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Midsummer gardens in my northwest D.C. neighborhood are splashed with day-glow orange lilies, sunny black-eyed susans and spikes of royal purple salvia.  Following on Pam Smallcomb’s recent post inviting middle grade readers to a literary picnic, this glorious garden display suggests a good summertime (or depths of winter) writing activity for younger children, centered around the question, “How does your garden grow?” Two picture books serve as good jumping off points for such an exercise.  They are My Day in the Garden by Miela Ford, lushly illustrated by Anita Lobel (Greenwillow 1999), and My Garden by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow 2010).

My Day in the Garden begins with, “Breakfast with the morning glories” and moves through “hide and seek with a toad, flower-counting with the butterflies, berry-picking with the birds,” and more.  As evening falls, “fireflies come to say goodnight.” For a lesson based on this book, first ask the children to close their eyes for a few moments and imagine that they are spending the whole day in a lovely garden on a sunny summer day. What do they see? Smell?  Hear? What might they feel with their fingers? With their feet if they took off their shoes? Are there fruits or vegetables growing in the garden to pick and eat?  What do they taste like?  What if a lawn sprinkler were suddenly turned on?     

Next read the story aloud.  Then take the students through morning, afternoon and evening in their own imaginary garden, asking them to come up with activities different from those in Ford’s text.  Write their responses on chart paper or a smart board.  Also invite the children to take a careful look at Anita Lobel’s illustrations.  How did she bring her own element of surprising originality to the story? Why might she have chosen the colors she used?  Point out that Lobel’s illustrations are highly patterned, explaining what this terminology means. Ask the students why Lobel may have chosen to decorate her illustrations in this way. How do her patterns relate to the theme of the story? How do they make you feel? Finally, have each child choose one of the garden activities described by the class and illustrate it.  

In My Garden by Kevin Henkes, a little girl helps in her mother’s garden, which requires hard work, but imagines a garden all her own.  In this garden, “There would be no weeds, and the flowers would keep blooming and blooming and never die…the flowers could change color just by my thinking about it… the rabbits would be chocolate” and “unusual things would just pop up—buttons and umbrellas and rusty old keys.”  There would be tomatoes “as big as beach balls,” and strawberries “glowing like lanterns at night”.  For a writing exercise based on this book, children could create their own six page “My Garden” book with a sentence and picture on each page describing the features of their own fabulous, fanciful garden.  

For a craft activity to accompany either book, have the students create a Fanciful Flowerpot Garden. You will need a 5-inch clay pot for each child, acrylic paints, florists foam, three craft sticks painted green per child, construction paper, pages from old garden catalogs (optional), glitter, and an assortment of small decorations such as beads, candies, gold stars, etc. and glue. Have each child paint a flower pot decoratively. Then have them draw a flower, insect and vegetable on construction paper and cut them out, or alternatively cut pictures of flowers and/or vegetables from a garden catalog.  Onto the tops of three sticks, have each child glue variously, a flower, a vegetable and an insect. Then have them decorate their sticks with glitter, stars, beads, etc. Fill each flower pot with florist’s foam. When the glue has dried, push the bottom of the stick into the florist’s foam. Your fanciful gardens are ready to be admired!

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