Medicine Wheel Garden Program: One Library’s Experience
If your library is lucky enough to have garden space, a children’s garden is a wonderful addition to programming. We were able to make a “Medicine Wheel” garden at our library. Doing this project incorporated math skills, use of compass, building skills, learning local codes, gardening and cooking skills. The children followed the project from April until we harvested the last of the plants in October.
The participants, ages 8-13, helped make the garden fit within a square area. The children had to figure out how large a circle would fit within the square and how to center it and mark it out for planting and pathways. The circle ended up being 36 feet across.
Once the garden was marked, the children made a circular pathway on the outside of the wheel and two cross paths. The cross paths had to be North-South and East-West. All of the paths were made to be wide enough for handicap access.
A local contractor donated a large stone for the center of the wheel. The children and sympathetic library patrons hauled in small rocks to edge the entire garden. Next they put down woodchips on all of the paths.
Next, the children had to figure out what type of plants would grow in our garden. There are four quadrants: White, Yellow, Red, and Blue (Black plants were too difficult to find and grow). They researched and then we went to the local nurseries to get the best prices. We had both live plants and seeds to put into the area.
We did not get into the medicinal properties of plants, but we did put food plants in with the flowers. We added red peppers and strawberries to the red section; Concord grapes and eggplant to the Blue/Black section; Mints and onions to the white section; Squash and yellow peppers to the yellow section.
Next we researched and found that most of the area was Potawatomi and we added a sign that explained that we were on Potawatomi land and how they had been here for thousands of years. We had signs written in Ojibwe to mark the four directions and list the months of the year that went along with each of the colors in our garden.
We also had an area to plant corn and did a three sisters garden area with the corn, beans and squash.
Adapting this program for younger children, ages 2-5
We adapted this program for the younger crowd and call it “Muddy Munchkins.”An Eagle Scout built us 4 big raised boxes, each 5′ square and about 15” high with benches on each corner. This prevents the gardeners from trampling their plants and gives them a specific place to be. The children tend their gardens planting both seeds and starts of plants. They have both vegetables and flowers that are sturdy enough to take rough handling. The children decorate their gardens with small craft items they make; sing to the plants using rhythm instruments ( I bring my hand drum and the children follow along with their instruments), and we read stories that go along with what is happening in the garden. We run this weekly in place of our regular story times.
Title: Native American Gardening: Stories, Projects and Recipes for Families
Author: Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) and Michael Caduto.
Publisher/Date: Fulcrum Publishing, 1996.
Comments: This book provided the information on Three Sister’s Gardens.
Title:The Carrot Seed
Author/Illustrator: Ruth Krauss; Crockett Johnson
Publisher/Date: Harper Collins Publisher, 1993.
Title:The Tiny Seed
Author/Illustrator: Eric Carle
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
Planting a Rainbow
Author: Lois Ehlert
Publisher/Date: Sandpiper, 1992.
Waiting for Wings
Author: Lois Ehlert
Publisher/Date: Harcourt Books, 2001.
The First Strawberries
Author/Illustrator: Joseph Bruchac; Anna Vojtech
Publisher/Date: Puffin, 1998.
How Chipmunk Got His Stripes
Author/Illustrator: Joseph Bruchac; Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey
Publisher/Date: Puffin, 2003
Both Eric Carle, Joseph Bruchac and Lois Ehlert have more titles that work well with this age group.
The children used many books: math, science, gardening, etc. as well as online resources to find out the information they needed. If they came across an insect they’d never seen, it was off to the building to see if they could identify the creature and decide if it was welcome in our garden.
Stories were told as we worked in the garden or during breaks. Since I am Native the kids were able to ask me questions about growing up and what it was like to be a Native child. I was able to give them facts: Native American’s could not legally speak their Native languages until 1978…after I’d already graduated from high school.
If you don’t have a Native person on staff, find a contact in your area and see if there is someone who can come out and speak or work with the children.
As a craft the children made “sticks” to mark each color in the medicine wheel. The children were divided into four groups and they designed and decorated a stick about 2 inches thick and 3-4 ft. long. The sticks were decorated with beaded, duck tape, paint, glitter, etc. These were added to the four corners of the outer square that was around our garden. One stick was decorated with peyote style beading and placed in the center of the garden with the large stone.