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Sarah Winnemucca Elementary School

Reno, Nevada

Students become teachers in the Winnemucca Elementary School garden, where fourth and fifth graders give lessons to their younger peers.

Around 700 kids in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade have the opportunity to participate in the school’s garden program. Garden Coordinator Sara Davis finds that partnering up older and younger students is a great way to boost student engagement and encourage collaboration and leadership.

“The older kids are given choices of lesson plans, and as a group they decide what lesson they want to do,” Davis explains. “Then they each pair up with a younger student and are in charge of helping them complete a worksheet.” 

Each fourth and fifth grader partners with a kindergarten or first grade buddy for activities such as:

  • Search for shapes, colors or things starting with a certain letter or do a scavenger hunt in the garden. These activities typically tie in with the younger students’ classroom lessons. 
  • Put beans in a plastic bag with a paper towel to sprout them. The older kids teach the younger kids all the parts of the plant as it grows.
  • A treasure hunt to harvest potatoes or other root vegetables.
  • Use rulers to measure how far apart to plant seeds.
  • Dissect for seeds.
  • Build a solar oven out of pizza boxes and use it to dry herbs.
  • Study rates of decomposition by placing different substances in Ziploc bags and watching them over time.

One of the best ways to gain mastery of a subject is teaching it to others. Passing garden lessons and knowledge on to younger students helps solidify it in the minds of the fourth and fifth graders.
“They really have to know the material to teach it,” Davis says.

For the younger set, seeing big-kid mentors in the garden can encourage them to take a greater interest in gardening as they move up through the grades — especially important since the Winnemucca garden is mostly kid maintained. Students tackle tilling, fertilizing, planting, harvesting, cleaning up the beds and composting.

Naturally, the kids also learn lessons of leadership and communication. Fourth and fifth graders are encouraged to pay attention to how they deliver information and how the younger students respond to different approaches.

“It’s fun to watch them reflect on what went well and what they could do better,” Davis says. “They reflect on their way of teaching, what they’re saying, how they’re saying it. Some of them really enjoy the leadership and it gives them more exposure to a different age group.”