Kinder-garden Takes Shape
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
On Saturday, May 5th, students from the UMass Amherst Department of Architecture gathered at Wildwood Elementary School with kindergarten students, families, and teachers to build a unique garden-based learning space - the culmination of several months of collaboration.
The endeavor is the capstone project of the five seniors in Design Studio VI, led by Erika Zekos, which has a strong public engagement component. Each year, students have the opportunity to work with a partner on a project that would be helpful in supporting the partner’s mission, with a focus on participatory practices. The studio is guided by the belief that high quality design has positive impact on our experiences and should be accessible to everyone.
The Amherst School Garden Program is led by Garden Educator Leila Tunnell and Elementary Science and Garden coordinator Jennifer Reese. Their mission is to help children build meaningful connections with the natural world through engaging, interdisciplinary activities in the garden and in the classroom. “We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with community partners and to engage students in authentic learning with real-world applications,” said Reese. Agreeing to the partnership, she noted was, “a clear ‘yes!’”
First, the architecture students conducted research into Public Interest Design strategies, learning about Human Centered Design and public engagement methodologies, which would later inform their work. They also did research to understand the social and environmental context of the Amherst Public Schools. Next, the students developed plans for a series of classroom visits.
On the first visit, Kindergarteners were invited to use drawings to express what they felt was important about a garden. On a later visit, the students explored possible garden sites around the building and helped the UMass class to understand how the spaces around the Wildwood school were used and where a garden would thrive. Interviews were conducted with other stakeholders as well, including the Kindergarten teachers, the school’s principal, and head custodian. Kindergartners’ ideas were incorporated into a design for unique raised garden beds near their classrooms which was presented to them on the third visit.
UMass students shared their design ideas and received feedback from their young design partners before finalizing their design and moving on to procuring and preparing materials. “I was so impressed with the UMass college students,” shared Wildwood Kindergarten teacher Lisa Poirier. “They listened to the kindergarteners’ ideas and designed a garden area that is beautiful, practical, and accessible.”
The Department of Architecture provided the construction materials and, under the guidance of shop manager John Pierce, the seniors learned the tools of the woodshop to pre-build the benches and planter box panels. Meanwhile, Kindergarteners painted the wooden slats that would be utilized for the garden wall.
The final step - assembling the series of raised beds and surrounding benches took place on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and included many Kindergarteners and their families.
Reflecting on the experience, architecture student Micaela Goodrich commented that “being able to work together and with a community was new for us. In just a few weeks we came out with an amazing project and built a lot of relationships that have had such an impact for me personally. This experience made me really understand what design work is all about.” Benny Yeo, a fellow senior architecture student, added that “designing a garden with kindergarten students taught me how to effectively engage the community to designing something meaningful with them.”
Poirier captured the importance of this project for her students. “This was a unique and meaningful experience for my students to see their ideas translated into architectural design. Thanks to Farmer Leila, Jen Reese, Erika Zekos and the wonderful UMass students for providing a space where current and future kindergarteners will learn and play.”