SIUE Early Childhood Center Students Learn by Helping at Rooftop Garden

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SIUE Early Childhood Center (ECC) students Atlas and Leah weed a flower planting on the rooftop garden outside Fixin’s Restaurant on campus.“I planted those yellow flowers, and they’re growing!” five-year-old Leah Sidarous said with excitement.

On Fridays throughout summer, Sidarous and her friends attending the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Early Childhood Center’s (ECC) summer school-age program are helping plant and maintain flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables on the rooftop garden outside Fixin’s Restaurant on campus.

“Last time I planted carrots and flowers, and today I’m watering,” announced five-year-old Camden Alexander during a visit to the rooftop on Friday, May 31.

ECC students Maddie and Hazel water tomatoes they helped plant on the rooftop garden at SIUE.The hands-on learning activity is offering the children a unique opportunity to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it in the real-world. Their efforts will help supply the Beet Box, a mobile farmer’s market that supplies fresh, affordable produce to food insecure communities across Madison County.

“It is especially educational for the kids to feel as if they are making a difference, and learn that the veggies they’re growing may feed someone else their age,” said ECC parent Jessica DeSpain, PhD, president of the Goshen Market Foundation and associate professor in the SIUE College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of English Language and Literature.

DeSpain presented the idea to include the children in the growing process to ECC educators Beth Martens and Trish Scheibal. Both were excited to incorporate another active learning opportunity into their curriculum, which places a strong focus on nature education and ecological responsibility.

William and Isaac from the SIUE ECC help maintain the rooftop garden on campus by water flowers.“We’ve been talking in our classroom about the importance of the plant cycle and how plants begin as seeds,” explained Scheibal. “This experience allows them to see first-hand how a plant grows from beginning to end and how plants support an ecosystem.”

“This is a great opportunity for our students to take a small part in helping others,” Martens added. “We also hope to connect with SIUE’s Honey Bee Association to learn about the pollination process, since the rooftop garden also houses a bee apiary.”

“The ECC kids have a special way of seeing things,” said DeSpain. “When I’m on the rooftop with the kids, I’m always impressed by the small creatures and treasures they find. Even the rooftop garden has beneficial insects, small worms, grubs, spiders and centipedes. The kids have shown me so many little secrets, that I’d never noticed in a year of working on the roof.”

The ECC students will tour the Beet Box later this summer.

Photos: SIUE Early Childhood Center (ECC) students Atlas and Leah weed a flower planting on the rooftop garden outside Fixin’s Restaurant on campus.

ECC students Maddie and Hazel water tomatoes they helped plant on the rooftop garden at SIUE.

William and Isaac from the SIUE ECC help maintain the rooftop garden on campus by water flowers.