Tiny Gardens, Young Minds

I think I went to school with that guy...

I think I went to school with that guy…

Earlier this week I tweeted and posted a thing or two on Facebook about fairies–books that describe them, gardens that welcome them, and adventures in finding them. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate a study of fairies into the classroom. Hold on a second! I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, are you serious? If I started teaching about fairies, I’d have a flood of parent complaints. If I’m going to do that I may as well enroll a chimpanzee as a student in my class and call it an ‘educational experience’!”

Bear with me for a minute. Without question, the first order of business would be to send home a well timed and carefully worded note that clearly explains the unit you have planned and details the pedagogical value of the unit on fairies. You’d be sure to make clear that you can neither confirm nor deny the existence of fairies to your students, which is best handled by your students’ families. Now you’re asking what I might possibly find in a study of fairies that could have pedagogical value, and that’s a valid question. The following is my answer, which I hope you will find not only legitimate but persuasive as well.  


The Utah Core Standards for social studies in kindergarten, first, and second grades state that students will be able to use geographic tools and skills, including maps and globes, and 1364782980_1understand map legends and directions. Now, because of that wonderful semester I spent in Educational Psychology (I’m serious! It was hard, but it was also really fun) learning about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, I know that some students’ learning styles are better suited to visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, and naturalist approaches.

I think you know where I’m going with this one. That’s right, a fairy garden is little more than a diorama of a physical (either real or imagined) space, combined with soil, plants, and other living and nonliving natural features. Because it is a 3D representation, it benefits visual and kinesthetic learners. Its use of plants, rocks, and natural objects facilitates learning for those who lean in the naturalist direction. A fairy garden can include houses, streets, signposts with directions, water features, even tiny human people. Depending on how the garden/city is laid out, students can gain a clearer sense of Core Standards concepts such as “grid,” “landmark,” and “compass.” Moreover, because it’s a fairy garden, the unit satisfies a science Core Standard with regard to examining living and nonliving things (such a multi-tasker!).

moreI think I’ve made a fairly strong case for this idea, but I’m not one for resting on my laurels. That’s why I’ve come up with even more applications. In Writers’ Workshop, why not encourage students to write stories set in the class fairy garden? Instruct them to visually examine the garden and then include those details in their writing, so that someone who hasn’t had a chance to see the garden personally can still imagine what it looks like.

Here’s another idea–as a class, identify a tiny object that can be moved within the fairy garden. Explain to students that as soon as they get to school tomorrow they will want to search for and find the object. Then, after students have gone home for the day, hide the object in a particular place in the garden. For bell work the next morning, have students find the object and write a short paragraph describing its specific location in the garden. Emphasize that they should use directional and measurement words. Collect the responses and pull them randomly to read aloud. The first student whose response correctly describes the location of the target object can have the chance to hide the object for the next day.

Once upon a time in a quiet, peaceful village lived a....

Once upon a time in a quiet, peaceful village lived a….

At this point you’re probably thinking you might be able to do this with your class, but you’re not sure where to start. How about this–collect students’ milk containers, rinse them out, and have students make them into houses and other buildings in the fairy garden. In the note you send home explaining the project, tell parents that students are welcome to contribute craft supplies, plants, and other small objects lying around the house. Ask students to gather pebbles, twigs, acorns, pinecones, and other interesting items in nature. Consider writing a grant proposal and submitting it to local garden centers, asking for donations of soil, plants, and a large container for your garden. More than anything, keep it simple and cost-effective, and as a teacher, you’re already really good at that!

Posted by Karen Rapier, an elementary education major at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT

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