WEforum’s Curious Gardener Summer Camp 2023 at Mastro Montessori
By Karen Pyndus, Director of Communications, WEforum
Spring will be here before you know it and for many local students, that will mean getting their hands in the dirt. Taking a page from the grow-your-own movement, Mastro Montessori Academy of Shrewsbury, the Rumson school district, and the entire Long Branch Public School system have each started their own school gardening program, enhancing their curricula throughout multiple subject areas and instilling in students the skills to make sustainability second nature. Participating in the cultivation of a school garden affords students opportunities that reach far beyond environmental education. The goal is to help students gain a sense of individual responsibility, along with a communal and social awareness to promote a life-long mindset of sustainable practices.
In 2017 Mastro Montessori established The Garden of Honor in memory of Mastro Montessori father, Neil DeSena. WEforum founder and wife of Neil, Carolyn DeSena, wanted her husband’s 17 raised bed organic garden to become an extension of the classroom for Mastro students. The garden not only served this purpose during the school year, it also became the centerpiece and driving force behind Mastro’s summer camp, providing hands-on learning experiences in curriculum areas including math, science, engineering, art, and more. Carolyn came up with the idea of creating a summer garden camp to help the school tend to the Garden of Honor throughout the summer months and to introduce gardening and other environmental science subjects to children in the Two River community. Through the collaboration of Mastro Montessori and WEforum, The Curious Gardener Summer Camp was born and has been thriving for the past five years.
The four week-long summer camp, open to first- through sixth-grade students, encourages a love of nature and gardening through hands-on activities that teach across the curriculum and content areas. These activities teach skills and integrate learning in multiple subject areas, which align with the age of the learners, such as environmental sustainability, nutrition, health, wellness, community service, ease of gardening, and an introduction to the practical business skills of running a green market. Teachers and professional experts bring the garden to life and intentionally incorporate a wide variety of subject areas into the program to enhance and elevate the experience for each child.
Campers, who may otherwise not have access to this type of natural space, learn about the environment, pollinators, birds, composting, vermiculture and many other food and food-chain related subjects through a hands-on approach. They are actively involved, leading to an enhanced experience and creating a learning environment that includes all senses, igniting whole brain learning. The hope is to encourage the love of nature and gardening through activities and planned projects.
With the generous support of Monmouth Medical Center, we provide camp scholarships for approximately 12-15 children from the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County. The camp not only provides fun for the campers, it also helps empower and educate them to make smart food choices and to learn how to garden on their own. “Our kids have loved the hands-on nature of the camp, like planting seeds in the garden, looking after a beehive, and enjoying the natural fruits and vegetables straight from the garden,” said Douglas Eagles, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club. “It brings concepts to life for our young people, and that is priceless.”
School and community gardens are hugely helpful in health education, broadening children’s perspectives and empowering them to self-sustain. Growing their own food makes them more likely to try new fresh, non-processed foods. Ron Finley, the Gangsta Gardener of South-Central LA and former keynote speaker for WEforum’s Eat for Life Conference, began to grow food in his own community garden due to the lack of available fresh produce in his neighborhood. People were choosing fast-food over whole foods due to convenience and cost. “Drive-throughs are killing more people than drive-bys,” Ron frequently mentions at his speaking engagements. His efforts to beautify his low-income neighborhood by building, creating, and maintaining community gardens has spread a wild fever throughout the nation. “When you teach a child to grow a carrot, they will eat a carrot,” Ron likes to say. The Curious Gardener program adopted this message and hopes to spread it to our neighboring communities through the children.
The impact that gardening can have on local, national, and global health issues is not lost on the educators who enthusiastically foster a love of all things green. The hope is that students will carry this new found excitement with them and conceivably pass this on to future generations. Clara Borders, Academy Director at Mastro, shares some insight on the purpose and directive of the school’s Garden Initiatives and Green Program.
“Mastro Montessori Academy is making a strong effort to expose students to gardening, healthy eating, and the importance of sustainability. We incorporate learning about healthy choices, the environment, gardening, and global impact into multiple subject areas, especially as the children advance through our program levels.
Depending on the age of the child, they may learn about many different topics related to cultivating their own garden, including lessons on horticulture, biology, botany, youth entrepreneurship, and environmental studies. The children can be exposed to any variety of these different topics depending on their interest and their developmental levels. Our goal is to expose as many children as we can to the importance of having a home or school garden and growing your own food. The more we get the children to think about the larger impact of each of their food choices, the more we can encourage them to be global citizens.
As educators we feel very strongly about the importance of what children put in their bodies to nourish their minds. When children are properly educated and empowered to grow their own food and value healthy choices, this transfers into healthy food habits throughout childhood, and hopefully into adulthood. The children can also help to make a positive impact on the environment through healthy and local food purchasing choices.”
Showing these students that they can make a difference may be the greatest lesson they learn through the program.
For information on the Mastro Montessori Academy Curious Gardener Summer Camp 2023 in partnership with WEforum and Monmouth Medical Center, please contact Clara Borders at email@example.com or call (732)219-5400. The program will run for the month of July summer of 2023. It is usually from 8:30-12:30, Monday through Friday.