Plant Kingdom is a systematically designed series of workshops for children, that gives an opportunity to create a local garden, that inhabits forgotten local plants in combination with edible flowers and vegetables. It’s a space where children will discover their neighbourhood, history and eco-social systems. Plant Kingdom creates a playful space, as a living laboratory, that provides a rich context to explore: art, crafts, science, math, language and many more.
Today the gap between the ‘Natures World’ and mankind has grown too great. Even so, while this global problem is huge, most of the solutions available to us are local, personal, empowering, and fun. Edible plant ecosystems is one of these solutions: an attempt to bridge that gap, using different collaborative design methodologies. The world we are building today, is the one where children will grow and live in. This art project aims to foster children’s creativity and openness, that will gives the opportunities to imagine and create their own futures. It encourages and grows awareness of children’s surroundings and the opportunities to engage.
The Plant Kingdom Project consists of minimum 8 creative workshops that develops in to the spiral edible garden. The various workshops include: presentation and exploration of garden ecosystems, drawing of the gardens and individual plants, character development, construction of the spiral garden, based on permaculture methods, weaving, harvesting and cooking, and the development of the Handbook. The series of workshops is designed for children from 8-10 years old.
Next to the series for the workshops, one of the outcomes of the project, is – the handbook or toolkit for kids and schools, that will include all steps, explanations and different working tools. The toolkit is created in collaboration with kids, by observing, asking and looking what language kids using to tech, share or explain to other kids there learning experience. HandBook will serve as a powerful learning tool for other children to investigate and discover the much-needed context of the world we live in. It also provides the opportunity to develop a learning system that children can enhance their creativity regardless of their geographical and cultural boundaries.
Structure of the workshops
Before and after the workshop, the workshop leaders, teachers or animators are gathered to discus the flow of the day and make sure everyone are on the same page. After the workshop, the discussion is holed about how workshop went and what should be improved for the next time.
In the beginning we always introduce the ice breaker activities to warm up the class. The Ice breaker is in one or other way connected to the theme of the day. The activities are always adaptable based on the inner children dynamics in the class at that day. So being aware of general class energies is very important. As well and people who are leading the workshop. Every grownup should be 100% with his/her mind, heart in the class.
Workshop 1: Ecosystem
The first workshop lays the foundation for the rest of the project. During two hours, we presented and explained about what is Ecosystem, edible plant garden and why it is important. The six Plant groups are introduced and the different edible plants, that falls under the plant groups. Companion planting method is used to compose the garden in order to make the best combination for beneficial planting. The children learn by drawing and writing about different plant groups and their function within the ecosystem.
Workshop 2: Character design workshop
The ecosystems are compared with human societies, in this case – The Kingdom, where different groups of people are presented, like: Doctors, Postman, Guards, Cooks, Farmers. For each plant, the children invent a character based on physical, botanical, historical, edible and other characteristics. The plants will have their own names, visual representation and place in the garden structure. At the end of the workshop, children are divided in 2 or 3 groups where they create the drawn garden with all characters they made.
Workshop 3: Companion planting map making
Companion planting is the planting of different crops in proximity (in gardening and agriculture), on the theory that they assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors necessary to increasing crop productivity. Companion Planting map – is a tool that helps to select and combine the plants for your garden. During the workshop, kids are introduced to the concept of plant companionship. By making the map, kids learn closely what plants are friends and what are not. The map is used later in the upcoming gardening workshops.
Workshop 4: Weaving workshop
The Plant Kingdom structure will be supported with different ways of weaving methods from natural and recycled materials such as branches, willow sticks, ropes, dried grasses. Children will start learning how to work on small scale weaving first. They weave around the recycled plastic milk bottle to create the permanent portable plant pot. After kids fill it in the earth and choose the seed of the plant the want to grow, and name. They take it home to take care of the seed grow.
Workshop 5: Germination
The purpose of this workshop is to point out to the children the importance of the seeds, their different shapes and to show the process of the seed germination. Germination workshop makes kids aware about connection between seeds and trees, flowers and any vegetation that grows around us. We start the workshop with time-laps movies about different seeds germination and growth process, short video about different shapes of seeds and ways they travel. After, we choose number of germination method to seed the seeds: in egg shells, pressed compost tablets, wet kitchen paper towels.
Workshop 6: Making of Spiral Garden
The 6th workshop is dedicated for the hands on gardening experience. Once the plants are big enough, the next step is to put them in the garden. One of the gardening methods is so-called DIY Herb Spiral structure that is based on permaculture principles. The structure of the spiral can be made from old brick, stones and peaces of wood.
The spiral is beforehand laid by adults. The children fill it with the soil and layers of straw until the spiral is filled. At the end, each child plants the plant that ends up with uplifting joy of watering the garden.
Workshop 7: Straw Bail Garden
Straw Bale Gardening is yet another gardening method for the urban places where the amount of soil is very limited. It is also simply a different type of container gardening. The main difference is that the container is the straw bale itself and is held together with two or three strings. Together with group of children, we prepare the straw bails, put on soil mix with compost, water and plant the selected plants in to the straw bail.
Workshop 8: Making Potato Towers
And one more gardening method, but this time to grow potatoes, mostly focused for urban places, where it is difficult to have access for deeper soil or in some cases – the access to ground is simply not possible. A potato tower is an excellent solution. Ranging from two to four feet high, these simple vertical gardens are constructed of a cylinder of metal fencing lined with straw and filled with soil. Simple to build, they also produce a high yield. During this workshop we introduce a short history about potatoes, the geographical connection, we talk about different sorts of potatoes. The main activity is making the potato towers. At the end of the workshop we make a potato stamps, and introduce the starch and it’s properties.
Workshop 9: Irrigation workshop
Ollas is unglazed clay pots, filled with water and it is an ancient method of plant irrigation. The first writing about the technique dates back about 2 000 years to China. It has since been practiced in many arid regions of the world including New Mexico. Modern clay capsules can be made from ordinary terra cotta flower pots found at nurseries and big box stores. The same principles apply because the pots are unglazed and porous, but an olla is open to the air and a clay capsule is closed or sealed and fed by tubing that keeps it full of water at all times. During this workshop kids are introduced to this irrigation system via video, later on kids bury several clay capsules(that are prepared in advance) in the garden and makes a small once themselves, that are placed in flower pots.
Workshop 10: Edible Weed Walk
Most of the time we are not aware the amount of edible plants that grows around us, in every cornet of the street. It is full with plants that most of the time we call it weeds. During the Edible weed walk, kids are given 2 to 3 plant images with the plant name, description so they can identify given flower. During 2 hours walk in the neighborhood, children are looking for plants that are given to them. All plants are edible in one or other ways. Once plants are found, children carefully remove it with roots from the ground. Later, weeds are planted into the school garden, where they grow to the next year to become strong and ready to use in the kitchen.
Workshop 11: Plant-ink making
The aim of the natural pigment workshop is to show different ways how to use our daily vegetables, flowers and fruits, that children can find at home or in their gardens. To encourage kids to see plants not only as the food, or decoration, but as well as the source of many things: paints, colors, forms, stories and many more. During two hour, children learn how, by using very simple kitchen tools, can make a beautiful colours form different flowers, berries and vegetables. As well, some experiment is shown for children how to transform red cabbage juice by simply using lemon and baking soda. How from bright purple you can create pink and green/blue using a little bit of chemistry.
Workshop 12: Harvesting and Cooking
During the cooking workshop together with kids we learned what is and how to make a recipe. We learned how to make a pancakes with vegetables and herbs form the garden. Children were divided in groups to make a different dough. At the end of the workshop the best pancake was selected by kids from different class.
Workshop 13: Preparation for presentation
The children work in groups. The leaders in the groups are appointed. Every group get 3 to 4 workshops to present. They are asked to invite two friends each for the upcoming presentation. In the beginning, we have a discussion with kids about what they think presentation is and what is important. Then they decide in the groups, how to present it and what materials to use.
Workshop 14: Presentation
The last activity of the Plant Kingdom project was dedicated for presentations of all workshops. The presentation was done in groups with all visual materials kids prepared in the previous workshop.
History of the project:
The project started it’s journey already in 2012. The first try-out of Plant Kingdom was done in collaboration with PUM (initiated by citymine(d)) and Espace Senghor, Brussles.
In 2013 the project got support by VGC and MUS-E Belgium, that opened up the possibilities to implement it in 3 different schools in Brussels. After successful year of more then 26 workshops, Plant Kingdom is continuing it’s growth and is already invited to be developed in 2 schools(Windekind and Windroos) and 2 cultural centres (ABC art basics for children and Maison verte et bleue ASBL)
Nadine, MUS-E Belgium, Loes Jacobs, Martine Roosen, Han De Meulemeester/BroM, citymin(d), PUM project
Schools: Windekind School, Windroos School, IBO Molenbeek
Project supported by: VGC, MUS-E Belgium, Nadine, Windekind School, Windroos School, IBO Molenbeek
link to the picture gallery on flicker