This year we felt very fortunate to have Sandra Frain, with her vast knowledge of Biodynamic gardening and composting, helping in the Kindy garden.
As we prepared for the fair this year the children, along with the help of Sandra and a number of parents and teachers, have been busy distributing rich sweet compost around our gardens so that our mighty compost pit was ready to receive and recycle all the food waste from the fair. Sandra has helped us all at Castlecrag to become more conscious of our daily responsibility to life a more sustainable life.
Sandra has a rich history in early childhood and biodynamic gardening and is one of Glenaeon’s gardening teachers. She focuses on creating a steady, safe, non-judgemental, nurturing environment for her parents and children.
Through repetition, which includes the introduction of manners, the children are elevated to a higher form of human interaction – this is what we meaning by ‘bringing our children up’.
In baking, the families grow to understand the qualities of the different grains which they bake as sourdough bread from Sandra’s ancient recipe. The bread is always baked with herbs from the garden – Sandra’s apothecary right there on the table for everyone to partake!
In craft activities throughout the year the parents have wet felted slippers, made garlands and woven biography rugs for the playgroup room. Families bring old clothes from home which they rip up (an activity the children thoroughly enjoy) and weave together to create a colourful tapestry of their lives to make the playgroup space feel even cosier.
Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming originally developed by Rudolf Steiner employing what proponents describe as “a holistic understanding of agricultural processes”. One of the first sustainable agricultural movements, it treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, emphasising spiritual, cosmological and mystical perspectives.
Underpinning the subject at Glenaeon is an attitude of respect for nature’s workings and cycles, eschewing the use of synthetic chemicals to either enhance or destroy any aspect of the garden.
2018 has seen the children at Preschool, Little Kindy, Kindergarten and Classes 1 and 2 receive weekly gardening direction from a gardening teacher. They help sow seeds, create and spread compost and apply specially prepared paste to trees in the playground. This has resulted in the children being more connected to the gardens and its fruits.
At the Middle Cove campus, the children learned to make and distribute various biodynamic fertilisers that create healthy growing conditions for the soil, the plants and the surrounding life.
At Middle Cove, the early years’ emphasis of gardening lessons is on practical activities that connect the child with the physical world in the garden. The children are slowly introduced to different aspects of the garden, allowing them plenty of time to absorb the plants and animals around them.
They learn to distinguish between root, seed, fruit and flower and vegetables, and as well as observing the life cycle of the plants, students also observe the habits of insects in the garden.
Children discover edible weeds, explore soil texture and make garden sculpture out of special knots.
Older children consolidate their skills in transplanting, seed sowing, weeding, feeding the soil and preparing the compost heap. The curriculum includes the effects of weather, sun and moon paths and seasons on the garden.
Although formal gardening lessons finish at the end of Year 6, high school students can often be found in the garden as it benefits the curriculum. They can be found harvesting ingredients for their food technology classes, writing inspiration for poetry, observing insects for biology, learning about sustainable biomes for geography and of course, maths in nature. Our high school building sits adjacent to the biodynamic garden and Year 7 have a number of students who enthusiastically flock to the garden at recess and lunchtime every day, voluntarily caring for the chooks and doing other pertinent tasks. They really appreciate being helpful.
We also offer Year 7 the opportunity to spend one class a week in the garden. They contribute to the necessary tasks such as moving mulch, building a hugel, restoring bushland adjoining the edible garden, making pest control remedies, performing chook care and propagating succulents for one of their environmental fundraisers.
Throughout the school, phenomenological Goethean observation skills are encouraged in our students, leading them to experiment with solutions and practically apply these learnings to the field which they are working. In the garden, this means they begin to notice what the plants, soil, animals and garden are telling them and find ways to support them.
It is also important for the children to experience a sustainable way of life, growing food, watering, harvesting and cooking each day. Sandra Frain, our biodynamic gardener comes each week and gardens with the children in our raised vegetable beds and our herb and flower gardens. They watch our native bees leave to pollinate the local native bush and they eat white mulberries from our tree.
Parents have benefited from four talks about organic/biodynamic gardening and foods and Sandra has held two composting workshops at the preschool.
Gentle, supported transitions from home to our centre are a very important part of our ethos. Parents of children who have not been in out-of-home care stay in the morning for the first two weeks of the year and can use our parents’ room to work if they want to remain on premises as the children settle into a longer day. We now have a playgroup that allows the two years olds to settle in to the premises and playground and get to know a future home away from home. We call it our Welcome Home Playgroup. It is so nice to see the very young children and parents / carers with us on Monday mornings.
The Garden team is increasingly making more use of the resources that are available on the campuses and among the teacher, staff and parent bodies.
We now collect food waste on campuses via several successful compost bins and heaps. At our school canteen, we collect the vegetable scraps and coffee grounds and in turn, supply the canteen with herbs and other embellishments.
Working Bees have taken place at the Preschool, Castlecrag and Middle Cove campuses, to make our necessary compost for nourishing the garden beds. This has been a great opportunity for parents, teachers and children to learn how to make a compost pile and to learn about the preparations that are unique to Biodynamics.
The maintenance team and grounds keepers regularly bring us leaves from all three campuses to support the carbon needed for the compost making. Thus we are practicing sustainability on our campuses by not sending the leaves off to green waste and buying back compost.
At this year’s Family Fair, we worked towards a more sustainable environment by making compost onsite on the day with all the food and coconuts and paper products from the Fair, with two other Steiner schools photographing our efforts for their own use at their fairs!
At Middle Cove, parents and children of Class 3 made manure concentrate. The mixture was buried in a specially prepared pit under the soil for a 10-week maturing time. It was then decanted and distributed for future use to fertilise our community’ own gardens.
In July, our Middle Cove garden hosted two Biodynamic workshops for the International Vital Years Early Childhood conference. Thirty teachers created a compost pile and made fertilisers for the garden. They look forward to taking these skills to their own schools now.
“Dearest Sandra, I wanted to write and thank you for sharing this wonderful year with us. When I first came home to Sydney after living abroad, I was coming home as something entirely new – a mother. It was your Playgroup that game me a place where I felt I truly belonged. Honestly, you have made my mothering experience so much of what it is today, giving me a place where we felt so loved, welcomed and appreciated. And what a joy it’s been for me seeing Juliette grow in such a beautiful environment and become so comfortable with you and everything you offer us – of course she loves the food and is always asking me to sing the songs throughout the week, but more than that you’ve given her a space where she feels safe to explore and be herself. You’re so deeply appreciated by us Sandra, and we hope to share many more wonderful years with you in the future. With all our love and warmth, Charlotte & Juliette”
“Dear Sandra, I stood there quietly for a moment, looking at you three, busy as bees, working so well together. The boys were so eager to help! And I thought to myself – how lucky am I to witness this fleeting moment of pure magic. And then I realised I couldn’t keep it to myself…I wanted to be able to show Hugo and Barnaby’s parents how fortunate and blessed we are to have you Sandra in our lives, to get to visit the sacred space of the school and garden, to attend this weekly gathering of love and humanity. How much these moments are shaping our souls, adults and children alike…From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Hugo and I love you.”