On Erdkinder

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Grape harvest with the Middle Schoolers

Maria Montessori, when studying early adolescents, realized that there was much in the way to teaching them academics.  Rapidly growing bodies and minds and the distractions associated with both made for some tough going book learning, so she figured out a way to “teach” these children by radically changing their environment.  The environment she selected was Erdkinder, “earth children,” in reality, farm school.

_DSC7383Middle-school aged children, therefore, were to live and work on a farm.  Under the tutelage of adult farmers, the children would be able to see how the business of a farm worked, and thus learn the math, chemistry, biology, marketing, and various skills associated with a productive farm livelihood.

_DSC7451Early adolescence is a tough time all around.  Frankly, I do not think I learned a thing between 12 and 14, except how to get into trouble. Becoming aware of yourself in the scheme of the world, the great “what do I do, what do I know” abstraction that is oncoming adulthood:  it’s tough, especially when you have one foot still firmly planted in childhood.  Erdkinder removed that abstraction, because earth children were valuable assets to the farm. The responsibilities assumed by the children were adult ones, thus creating an immense sense of accomplishment, and an immense boost to the children’s self-esteem.

_DSC7425And strategizing the picking, figuring mechanical things out (like the grape squisher above), working together to accomplish these tasks, getting over one’s fear of bees and bugs, and then figuring out how to market their harvest of juice:  granted, they’re not LIVING at our farm but they certainly learned from it.

I have a feeling they’ll be back.

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11 responses to “On Erdkinder

  1. Farm school for young adolescents. I’d have benefited from that, and so would my (now 13-year-old) brother.

    I wonder how easy it is to get this implemented?

  2. Good for you! I benefited from it too, as I worked at farms around home while I was growing up from oh, 6th grade to 12th.

  3. Wow, that makes me an ‘earth child’. I knew I was something. Cool!

  4. LOVE Montessori. LOVE when older kids can benefit from the approach. I am so jealous of what you can offer them. Makes me want to quit my teaching job and go buy a farm and teach them there!!

    Today at our elementary school’s Peace Garden we had some fall cleanup. I took some of my second grade students out and we did a reading activity and then helped the parent volunteer who had come to start things up. There were four kids and three adults, and that was a good ratio in that moment! They were super proud to yank out the sunflowers or other shorter annuals and shake out the roots. They were pumped about gardening afterwards. “That was so fun!” “I LOOOOOOOOOOOVE GARDENING!” (Imagine this SCREAMED). Fun times. I wonder if they have ever worked in a garden before?

  5. I am always pleased when we gather a whack of the homeschooling young adolescents and have them do something big and physical. They’re a huge help.

    Although, the hormone swirls around them are a tad distracting!

  6. Wheelbarrows full of grapes! I’m a bit jealous we only got a bowl full of grapes this year…of course we only have a few young plants. Someday when I set up a better location for them, away from the trees:), I will have to pick your brain for information on how best to tend them…I too want a wheelbarrow full of grapes. And what a great harvest crew you have.

    I’ll have to read up on Maria Montessori, she sounds very interesting. As I have said before, I love what you are doing with the children.

  7. I have dreamed for years of starting such a school. I honestly don’t know how to go about it, so I just do it with my gramerlings when I’m off in summer.

  8. I too like the Montessori method of teaching. The funny thing is, even as an adult, learning to grow things and the botany/seasonality of how it works gives *me* the same sense of accomplishment and outlook as you described seeing in the middle schoolers! Its wonderful that you have given them that opportunity. How did you arrange it with the school?

  9. Octopod, I would say it’s hard to get it implemented. There’s only one school in the States that operates this way, so, good idea or no, there’s much resistance. And yeah *I* certainly think I would have benefited, too.

    Jules, it obviously has stuck with you, too 😉

    Kelli, hi: getting kids gardening has MUCH to recommend it, doesn’t it? Getting them cooking too. The whole process. I am quite glad you guys were able to get out and throw some dirt around. It takes immersion sessions like this to stick, sometimes; the Erdkinder thing is meant to really suss out what makes these kids tick, figure out where they excel, and no, it doesn’t train them to be farmers. It’s mostly about competency, and getting out of your own head.

    Stef I would think using them for heavy lifting projects would be quite wonderful: even light-lifting, as heck, they picked some for us too 😀 They do feel great when they’re helpful, though.

    Oh Mike I have more than wheelbarrowloads. More like, well, it’s embarrassing, really. Some years are good some great and this was a great year. And thanks; I love kids.

    See Kimberly? It is mighty fun. And working with bees next year will be doubly fun so get a lot of small beesuits!

    MC, yeah, they’ve even been here before! It’s all part of my daughter’s school, see, and I do many food things with the kids so…it was a natural to have them come out and work the grapes. But yes, sometimes, it takes a while for one to make those connections. We’re taught to ignore the seasons what with our full supermarkets.

  10. El (in response to Octopod) – there is more than one farm schools in the States. Here are the 2 in my county.

    Mountain Laurel Montessory farm school in Flint Hill VA: http://www.mountainlaurelmontessori.org/farmschoolcurriculum.html

    Belle Meade: http://www.bellemeadeschool.org/

    No question, it takes quite a commitment from founder, the parents, the kids and a supporting community.

  11. Nice! Lucky you for all those grapes!!!

    All our vines combined didnt even produce anything bringing back to the kitchen. I did find some wild ones. I am not sure if they ARE grapes…but will harvest as soon as I can bring down the vines. They are 15 feet high on a walnut tree : ).

    Good to see all is well with you.

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