Northwest Indian College Early Childhood Education Initiatives are for
and by the Lummi community’s children and families

We pass our Sensory Garden every day on the way to school

By Taja Oberly
Photographs courtesy of Jazeel Michel, Alex Stribling, and Treena Humphreys

As we pass our Sensory Garden every day on the way to school, the school day begins, as students notice the changes in the garden and point them out to their families. They describe various plants and talk about how things smell and feel. They take pride in caring for and sharing their garden.

The garden reflects a variety of plants that are local to the area and can be useful for cooking or for health purposes. Introductions to plants began with anatomy and care. Students learned what was needed for plants to grow and asked questions exploring the differences between caring for plants in Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. The students graphed the number of leaves they removed while maintaining the garden.

We bring plants from the garden into the classroom. We compare the smell and feel of plants from our garden, using all senses to describe and define each one. The children are able to tie in the community as they talk about the plants and how they use them at home. We compare the shapes and sizes of the leaves. We discuss the weather and how it affects our garden. Teachers and students bring books in from their own homes to share. Story telling is an important part of our community and students and teachers alike share how they grew or harvested various plants.

Classrooms are set up to reflect the culture and background within our area. Natural wood and tree building in the block area and outdoors. Books and other literacy materials reflect our history and culture with representations of both Indigenous Languages and English. In our Art area, the students picked plants to paint on or with using a variety of mediums.

Daily observations of the children allow teachers to better follow the children’s ideas and direction of thought. They allow us to document the internalization of the ideas and concepts introduced. Questions and discussions are used to explore ideas and build upon the imagination and life-experience of the children. A teacher can encourage a student to explore ideas and incorporate their community. Classroom lesson plans reflect the foundation of local family and community. During a nutrition lesson, the students discussed the uses of the garden plants at their school to the plants they grow at home or harvest.

Allowing a variety of materials in the classroom from our community reflects in the student's imagination. The concepts pulled from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are applied to our students everyday activities and discussions.