Life Lab's Garden Educator Allison O'Sullivan – Adventures in Experiential Education
- Teaching the 6 Plant Part Skit
- Singing some fun garden songs – She is great at singing Piece of Scat
If you send your child to our Garden Classroom for a Field Trip or Camp, there’s a good chance, I’ll get to share my thoughts about nature with them. Don’t worry… I was once a kid, I’ve interacted with thousands of them, and I’ll do my best to connect with your child and teach some valuable concepts. Here is a little insight about my childhood and adventures as an educator:
As a child I spent most of my time outside exploring. I loved turning over logs along the riverbank and finding all the creatures squirming underneath. I’d spend hours making mud pies and chasing lizards. When night fell, I practiced the art of firefly catching… and releasing… and catching. I’d “oooh” and “ahhh” at shooting stars and wait with anticipation to watch the moon disappear during lunar eclipses. “Where does it go?”, I’d think. I can still remember when I realized that the stars only look little, despite their actual huge size, because they’re so far away. That fact still amazes me to this day.
The summer that I was 8 years old, I got to travel to California with my mom’s best friend and stay for a couple of weeks visiting and making new discoveries. I was so excited! We drove through the Painted Desert, and I marveled at the colorful rock landscape and the warm winds. We arrived in the Monterrey Bay and I saw a forest in the ocean! Then we walked in the Redwood Forest, and I wondered how the trees grew so tall… "so tall from such a tiny seed!". I picked seeds from the duff the entire hike, stowing them away in my pockets, determined to grow giant redwoods in Texas when I returned. I eventually made it back home to San Antonio and continued growing up outside, planting pansies in the front yard and climbing oak trees, but no redwoods, in the backyard.
At the age of 25 I found myself teaching Agriculture in an elementary school to 2nd graders in a rural village in the sub-Saharan savannah of northern Ghana, West Africa. The indoor classroom was stifling… the cement brick building built by an aid organization did not suit the hot climate. Students walked for miles to get to the classroom, and sweated more once they arrived than during their journey. I attempted to draw pictures on the chalkboard of agricultural techniques used in the field. My students couldn’t understand my drawings or my English. But I knew they understood the textbook techniques that I was trying to explain because I had seen the kids using them in their own subsistence fields. I flashed back to my childhood explorations… my moments of awe in nature, and I decided to make the farms surrounding my students’ houses my classroom. Their elders became the guest speakers, and they demonstrated with hands-on activities the knowledge that I could not explain with my chalk and board. We practiced intercropping and established perimeter hedgerows around their community garden. We got our hands dirty in the soil, and I taught the kids repeat after me songs like “Sun, Soil, Water, and Air are everything we eat and everything we wear.” Those kids taught me how to be their teacher.
Today I am the Garden Educator at Life Lab, the garden is my classroom, and the kids I teach are often my teachers. In my third decade around the sun, I’m still growing out of my childhood myself, and I hope to grow immediately back into it the moment it gets too far away. I plan to do so by continuing to learn from nature, from kids' experiences, and especially from fireflies.