Straw Bale Gardening Workshop

by Aynur Gül Şahin

I am Aynur Gül Şahin. I have studied "Preschool Education" at Boğaziçi University. On the 6th of March, I participated in the outdoor workshop about Straw Bale Gardening. Regina Kruse Özçelik who is a nature-education pedagogue organized the workshop and showed us the way doing outdoor education with children. She is the organizer and coordinator of the workshop and at the same time she is educator in the kindergarten which has applied outdoor education. During the workshop, she showed us the philosophy of creating outdoor class and its connection with cross-curriculum approach. In that paper, I will introduce my reason to involve the workshop, the steps on the workshop and its connection with curriculum then I will provide my reflection about this workshop.

I was interested in the nature because I spent my childhood in Adana and because of the hot weather during the summer; we used to go to our mountain house. That is why I spent so much time in the forest during the whole summer. Moreover, last year I had a chance to involve in Erasmus program in Sweden. During that time I had a chance to do internship in Swedish kindergartens and all my experiences are really valuable in the sense that they have affected my perspective about outdoor education. When I was there, I realized how much I loved nature and how much I was interested in nature. After I came back from Sweden, I have decided to improve myself about outdoor education more and when I saw the workshop, it was the thing which I would never miss.

On the 6th of March, the workshop started with a presentation and a brief explanation about the content and steps of the workshop to create an outdoor class and its relation with cross curriculum approach.

In the workshop there were many participants with different titles such as university students, parents, preschool teachers and psychology counselors. After the presentation, we went out and never spent time inside. We were divided into three small groups and we started to examine the seeds and categorize them in order to make a seed book. To make a seed book, firstly, we had a jar of mixed seeds and we tried to separate and name them for the book. It was not easy because there were many different kinds and sizes of seeds. During the process I realized that I have very limited knowledge about the seeds.

These experiences have a linked with the curriculum in many ways. Working as small groups in a cooperative way may link with social aspect of the curriculum. Team work is a valuable experience to understand the others point of view to make a conclusion. In other words, working in a group also supports the communication, leadership and cooperation skills of children. Counting, categorizing and organizing a seed books has a considerable impact on math skills. Labeling seeds and writing a seed book is related with literacy and language skills. Moreover, it is not possible to know the name of each seed because of variety of seeds in the jar that is way it supports their curiosity and exploration skills and these all linked with cognitive development of the children.

After we all made our personal seed books, we started to press the seeds to make bread by using different tools such as hamper and rocks. During that time, we decided to choose the ingredients in our bread as a group. Everybody told their preferences for our bread. Firstly, we put the seeds on the cloth bag on the firm ground and then with the help of rocks and the other materials, we started the process with the mill. During that time I realized that crushing seeds needed so much effort and time because I felt really tired of pressing the seeds one by one. Also we tried to develop a strategy to press more seeds with less effort and made a brainstorming and by experiencing tried to find the easiest way. After we pressed all the seeds in the bag, we started to prepare the mixture of our own bread based on the recipe but we chose the ingredients.

Each groups prepared different mixtures of bread with different types of seeds and then we put this mixture aside for fermentation.

During the time, preparing flour by crushing seeds firstly requires decision making as a group. After deciding a solution how and where to crush seeds, the trial and error process begun. During the crushing, children need to share their responsibilities with their group members and they need to wait until their own turn. All together, this process requires problem solving skills because children try to find the easiest way with less effort and less time. For preparing the mixture of flour to make bread, children develop their social skills in the group because they need to discuss the ingredients of the flour because they are aware of these ingredients might change the taste of their bread. Calculation the proportion of the flour, water and the other ingredients for the bread requires math skills.

Another step of the workshop was about planting. We went to the forest part of the school and each group took one straw bale. The educator for the workshop showed us how to use and accommodate it. Then, we started to work on our own planting. We tried to find the appropriate place for our straw bale; so, we chose an appropriate area under the sun and then dig the straw bale. After digging, we put the soil in the hollow with seeds. To differentiate the seeds we decorated around straw bale garden by using our creativity. We also put some rocks and sticks around the earth we planted. Then, to keep our seeds away from the threat of chickens in the garden we surrounded it with hedge. Every group created their own gardens by planting different seeds and diverse organizations. Planting is not an easy job so you need take into account every single detail.

The children need to decide the position of the sun to carrying, roll the straw bale to the appropriate place and this requires problem solving and motor skills. Again to make a decision for the appropriate place, they need to take a decision all together by offering their opinions and applying democracy for the last decision requires communication and social skills with working in the group. Another problem solving skills are developed by finding a solution for their future plants to protect them from thread of chicken in the garden therefore they need to find solution for this. After planting, the literacy skills and creative art skills are developed by labeling and creating label card for their plants.

Then we took the break for resting to have a lunch. The lunch was open buffet and we had it outside in the sunny day so it was a great lunch to socialize and try new food. During the lunch, I had a chance to know the people in the workshop more. After the lunch each group prepared the pieces of bread by wrapping the sticks to cook them. We made a big fire on the portative barbeque and I made the fire then we all cook our own bread together. It was my first and the most delicious bread, which I made myself and cooked it on fire with stick, I have ever eaten before. In the final of the workshop, we all talked about the personal experiences and how we could use all these experience in education.

For this final step, wrapping the mixture of flour surround the stick helps to develop children’ fine motor skills. Children are aware of the danger of fire and learn protecting themselves against fire while they are cooking their bread. During the cooking process, children experience whether their breads have cooked well or not so they need to observe their bread and arrange the distance between fire and their stick. They might feel proud and confidence while they eating their own bread because they spent time and effort to have their end product successfully.

My personal experience that the time spent outside was really valuable for me. It was the best Sunday on the outside sunny day after Sweden because I enjoyed a lot. I realized the importance of the seeds because eating bread is very easy but I was not aware of all processes behind to have the bread because you need to planting, growing, pressing and cooking. When I asked the children how we have the bread, most of them told me it comes from supermarket or bakery because they did not experience it before. As an assistant teacher on the Boğaziçi University Preschool Lab, I prepared a daily plan for plants based on my experience on the workshop in that way it was an effect on the children in my class. In other words, these experiences can be applied for any age groups to support their development in many ways. To sum up, I really enjoyed a lot and had a different perspective after the workshop not only about outdoor education but also about my perception of nature.