The literal translation of the German word, ‘kindergarten’ means children’s garden. The name ‘kindergarten’ was coined by Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852). One of the main activities for children endorsed by Fröbel's philosophy was ‘observing and nurturing plants in a garden for stimulating awareness of the natural world.’ He believed in encouraging the children to play, explore and socialise. The teacher was a nurturer and co-explorer helping them to develop a love for learning through play and curiosity.
I have been lucky to be involved in a community group that cares about the environment. As a volunteer, I have always helped out in the kitchen. Now I’m getting my hands dirty in the community garden something I always wanted to do. Back in Sept 2016, our crowdfunding campaign raised money for some work to be done in the garden. Now we are waiting for the delivery of a greenhouse and gradually working toward designing the garden based on permaculture principles.
Having zero experience in gardening with one of the most nature-starved education under my belt I put my hand up whenever there is an opportunity.
In the past several weeks we have been harvesting sweet potatoes and olives - we planted the olive tree some years back by the side of a quiet suburban street.
I started gardening by learning to do the compost and now I look after a narrow green strip in a public laneway. I was wondering why I enjoy gardening. It must have something to do with working with your hands and the soil, planting seeds and watching them grow. The knowledge of gardening is also infinite. There is always new things that you need to learn. You realise that apart from your best efforts the weather is a vital factor which you have no control over and can nullify all the sweat you put into your gardening work. Being thankful for good weather and accepting that you may not have the final say and be prepared to try again and hope for the best condition is the right attitude to adopt.
As I was harvesting the sweet potatoes the other day a neighbour went past and was utterly surprised that such decent size crops in good quantities came from a tiny plot that he hardly even noticed was there. Our conversation gradually carried us to his backyard where we had morning tea with his family. We were neighbours who had never met before, typical of many neighbourhoods these days.
In the same narrow laneway, I met more people and wondered if gardening in public spaces was a good way to get to know your neighbours?
People could do a lot more in their neighbourhoods and gardening seems to be a good way to connect us to the earth and the neighbourhood. It feels more natural to talk about plants and flowers and share ideas about food and cooking than anything else, especially when most news although not fake news but aren’t good news either.
Is building communities similar to looking after a garden where you need to think about what you need to do and how you are going to do it and choose your tools and methods? I think it is. It requires time, effort and commitment and it’s ongoing.
The soul of the community like the soil in the garden needs attending, feeding and watering. Only from a good soil something good can grow. Fröbel’s philosophy of education is to ingrain in children to think freely and understand the natural processes of which they are a part of, building a foundation for later life.
Gardening seems to be a great model to learn from regardless at what point in life we are at. When it comes to building communities it seems to me not many of us have graduated from the kindergarten.
An earlier photograph of a kindergarten in Brooklyn.