Posts by Christine Lai

The (Edible) Parts of a Plant

Is it a root? A modified stem? A tuber? Root vegetables are endlessly fascinating and great for illustrating the different parts of a plant. At Bryson Elementary, students studied carrots, beets, and radishes. They learned the differences between warm and cool season vegetables and fruits. From flowers like nasturtiums to roots like carrots, we eat…

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Book Review: Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson

Looking for a book that combines fall festivities with information on the seed cycle? Look no further. Pumpkin Circle: the Story of a Garden by George Levenson will delight students from Pre-K to 3rd grade. The book is chock-full of colorful photographs–tendrils, mounds of pumpkins, spooky jack-o-lanterns. The prose is lyrical. It tells the story…

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Worms at Willow Elementary

As our tour of the senses continued this week at Willow Elementary, students touched red, manure worms. They learned that worms are slick because they breathe through their skin and that they squirm because they don’t like the sunlight. Students were also delighted to learn that, like them, red worms prefer sweet fruits like watermelon,…

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Edible bouquets @ 42nd St Elementary!

Why follow the fad of making bouquets with succulents, when you can make a bouquet out of fresh herbs and edible flowers? In our first lesson of the year, students at 42nd Street Elementary learned that some flowers are edible. They tried petals of marigolds. Students also sniffed sage and basil. They touched lacinato kale…

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The Cycle of Seeds at Bryson Elementary

At Bryson Elementary, students got to learn about the cycle of seeds! With summer coming to a close, it is a perfect time to collect seeds from Thai and Italian basil, cilantro, and rue. Students were given dried cuttings of each and told to find the seeds inside the flowers. From second to fourth grades,…

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Sights and Smells at Willow Elementary

Students at Willow Elementary kicked off their first ever gardening classes with a plethora of plants that they could touch and smell. Cuttings included basil, rosemary, thyme, and mint. Students observed that some were rough, others smooth. Some had tiny leaves, others larger ones. Some had flowers, and others not. We then took a tour…

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Bryson Elementary: Seed Hunters

Today at Bryson Elementary, we learned about seeds. After reading A Seed is Sleepy (review found here), we went into the garden in search of seeds. We found seeds in the runner bean’s dried up pods and coriander from this formerly cilantro plant. Meanwhile, in the garden, our broccoli continues to grow, tomato fruits continue…

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Bryson Book Review: Are you a ladybug?

If there’s one beneficial insect that kids know, it’s the ladybug. Are you a ladybug? by Judy Allen is an adorable book written for students in lower elementary. It goes through the life cycle of a ladybug and answers a lot of questions that students ask: are all ladybugs red? Do they all have spots? The…

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Assassin bugs are my friends – Bryson Elementary

In their lesson on friends and foes in the garden, students peered through magnifying glasses to look at spider mites found underneath tomato leaves. The mites appear to be nothing but dots–that is, until you start watching them move and spotting their webs. The lesson on friends and foes in the garden is always a…

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Bryson Elementary: Plants Feed Me!

This week at Bryson Elementary, we learned which parts of the plant we eat. Students had to identify which parts of broccoli, radishes, carrots and beets we eat. Some, of course, have more than one.   The terrific book Plants Feed Me by Lizzy Rockwell covers this topic. Although the text is for younger kids, the information…

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Bryson Elementary: Self-seeders

Today at Bryson Elementary, we learned all about seeds. We read A Seed is Sleepy, a review of which you can find here, and learned about the seed cycle. When it was time to go to the garden, students spotted self-seeding annuals like sunflowers, nasturtiums, zucchini and cilantro.  

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Bryson Elementary: Ready, Set, Bolt!

“Getting your hands dirty is fun!” the first graders above squealed. There’s negative correlation between age and the willingness to get your hands dirty.  Transition into Kindergarteners (TK) and first graders? No problems with dirt and worms. Third and forth graders? “I don’t want to get dirty! I need gloves.” But as students learn in…

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Bryson Elementary: Art in the garden

Students at Bryson elementary finished up their six week rotation with posters that demonstrated what they learned in gardening class. Popular themes included soil, insects and sunflowers. The first graders had just finished James and the Giant Peach and some were inspired to put in peach trees and characters like Grasshopper and Ladybug.   Meanwhile, outside…

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Bryson Elementary: The Habitat Garden

The garden is not a sterile environment, somewhere we impose our will; it is a habitat. It teems with insects, birds flying about and micro-organisms busy breaking down organic matter in the soil. Even fifth graders are not immune to squealing when they see a roly poly or an insect they have never seen before–see…

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Bryson Elementary: Winter tomatoes?

Strawberries and tomatoes that can be planted in the cold season seem almost to be a myth too good to be true–especially to those not from southern California. After all, don’t we usually pick tomatoes off of vines in July and August? But at Bryson Elementary, we have planted a tomato variety called “Sub Arctic…

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Bryson Elementary: Seeds in Action

It’s only February here in Southern California, but it’s already starting to feel like Spring–we’re immune to whether the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not. The days are getting longer and warmer and plants are flourishing. Annuals that sow themselves like nasturtiums and sunflowers are popping up too, which is a wonderful opportunity…

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Bryson Elementary: Scat in the garden

Bat guano, chicken manure, worm castings–these are all words that just mean “poop,” I tell the children. In an organic garden where we don’t use chemical fertilizers, poop from many animals–bats, chickens, worms–is necessary to add nutrients to the soil. The first time one of the fifth grade classes saw the worm bin, I asked…

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Bryson Elementary: Propagating Plants with Stems and Leaves

Plants sprout from seeds, right? Well, yes, but as the Bryson Bulldogs learned, there are other ways to propagate plants–through stem and even leaf cuttings. In our school’s garden, there are plenty of other plants that propagate easily via stem. Our oregano and nasturtiums are growing and spreading with each rain–which, exceeded nine inches in…

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Bryson Elementary: Book Review of a Seed is Sleepy

While not as lyrical as my all time favorite children’s gardening book Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt, A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston is definitely worth reading to children of all ages. Beautifully illustrated in watercolors by Sylvia Long, the book goes through the cycle of seeds. Along the way there are interesting facts…

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Bryson Elementary: Winter Greens Thrive

Like I always tell the students at Bryson Elementary, we are very lucky to have such a long growing season in Southern California. The lacinato, or dino, kale is a great example. With the winter rains finally here, the plant has flourished in our garden, along with other dark, leafy greens. Here’s to the New…

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Bryson Elementary: The wonder of seeds

Leo Buscaglia, noted educator at the University of Southern California’s Department of Special Education said the following: “The fact that I can plant a seed and it becomes a flower, share a bit of knowledge and it becomes another’s, smile at someone and receive a smile in return, are to me continual spiritual exercises.” There…

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Bryson Elementary: Student transplant seedlings

(Photo: “I am in charge of all seeds” by poppet with a camera is licensed under CC by 2.0) For many gardeners, planting is the most exciting part of gardening. Students are no different–except for those who go crazy for worms. For those students, worms come in first place every single time. But for those…

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Bryson Elementary: School of Soil, Part II

“What is the most important thing in a garden?” “SOIL!” Week after week, my students get the same question. To drive home the point, students experience soil in as many ways as possible. Besides smelling soil, which I wrote about in my last post, students dig in the soil with both trowels and their bare…

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Bryson Elementary: School of Soil, Part I

(Photo: “Radish Sprouts and Radishes” by Jess is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0) Jim Folsom, the director of the Huntington Library and Garden, likes to say that his institution is the “temple of soil.” I like to think of Bryson as the “School of Soil.” At the beginning of each class, I ask, “What is…

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A Celebration of Gardens at Bryson Elementary

On the last day of their six week rotation of gardening classes, students got into groups to make posters demonstrating what they learned. Their posters ranged from the plant cycle to the long-horned beetle attacking the California Oak. The students also presented their posters to their classmates and fielded questions from the audience. “Do you…

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Bryson Elementary: Students Start Seeds

Students use a variety of inorganic and organic containers to plant bean seeds. Germinating fast and reliably, beans are nitrogen-fixing and improve the soil. With words like, “organic,” “inorganic” and “decompose,” the lesson is an opportunity to go over prefixes and connect to literacy.    

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Bryson Elementary’s Garden Detectives & The Case of the Powdery Mildew

Gardens are places of high drama. In one year, students observe plants germinating from seeds, growing, flowering, and dying. Aside from being awe inspiring places that yield fruit and vegetables, gardens are also places where plants get sick and are preyed upon by pests. While diseases and pests plague the average gardener, they present opportunities…

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Bryson Elementary: Students spy things big and small

Students need little help when it comes to finding interesting things in the garden–especially when it comes to insects: “It’s a wasp!” “A Bee!” “A Ladybug!” As an EnrichLA Garden Ranger, I think a large part of my role is to guide their observations and pique their interest. I know I’ve succeeded when they have…

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