Imagine you are in fourth grade. You are sitting in a classroom with a large textbook open on top of your desk and you are reading about ecosystems. You encounter unfamiliar terms like habitat, competition, predator, prey, food chain, decomposer, pollinator, and natural resource. The text discusses how living and non-living things interact in their environment and you are struggling to make sense of all this within the confines of your classroom. Now imagine you are in a garden watching all the mechanisms of an ecosystem come to life.
That is exactly what fourth grade students in Trenton did this fall in their school garden. Within an 8’ by 4’ garden bed, an entire ecosystem exists. In their garden, students learned how water, soil, and air sustain the plant, animal, and fungi living there. They discovered that the garden is a habitat for many creatures and witnessed the complex food web it supported by observing aphids eating kale, and predators like ladybugs praying on the aphids. They noted plants growing too close together competing for resources like sunlight and water and they watched bees and butterflies hop from flower to flower, collecting nectar for food and spreading pollen so that our plants can produce seeds. Down in the dirt, they examined decomposers diligently eating fallen leaves and other debris so that nutrients can be returned to the soil. Filled with a sense of wonder, students now understand that each of the components of an ecosystem are necessary for its survival as the pages of their textbook come to life.
*This blog was originally posted on njhcn.org*