Pea-ce and Blessings: How Can We Lean about Kavod (Respect) through our Garden?

Author: Alana Kessler, Gan Shalom Lead Teacher & Environmental Studies and Garden Specialist

Date: 20 August 2019


The Gan Shalom community of the 2019-2020 school year is going to be part of a very exciting development and exploration throughout our outdoor spaces. Our guiding question as educators when working in this space with the children will be ‘How can we teach children about Kavod (Respect) for others, for our community and for our environment through the Garden of Gan Shalom?”

Before the Gan students arrived, Rabbi Bill Kaplan shared his edible Judaism curriculum with our teaching team. He left us with the knowledge and inspiration to integrate Torah and Jewish holidays into our Gan Garden. I cannot wait till all seven species are growing and being used in our kitchen and enjoyed by our community for different celebrations throughout the year. Later in the week, we invited parents and staff to germinate pea seeds and write blessings for our students. As the students arrived, I find it no coincidence the pea seeds started to sprout. We also hanged the parent’s blessings in the patio of the school!

During our first week, students had the opportunity to get pea seeds ready for planting by wrapping them up in a damp paper towel. We spent time looking at the differences between seeds that have started to grow and those still in the packaging. After this seed exploration students will be able to notice similarities and changes between solid, dry seeds and seeds that have been soaked in water. This has been an ongoing conversation about how seeds grow into plants. Before our first Shabbat, we broke ground and planted our seedlings. The Gan gardeners will patiently wait and care for the peas as they grow in our backyard! We will learn what plants need to grow and be healthy. We will express gratitude for the four elements – earth, air, sun, and water – and learn how they help the seeds and plants to grow.

Both downstairs and upstairs students learned about Bal Tashchit and Des Troy, two friends who act very differently in the garden at Gan. Bal is full of love and kindness. Des is not as thoughtful and makes big messes. We shared the importance of acting like Bal and having a safe, calm body around things growing so we don’t waste the seeds planted, both now and throughout the school year. Bal Tashchit is not just a character’s name, it is the Jewish value of not wasting and caring for the environment.

Our Gan garden has mint growing both in a barrel and on the rocks, and our learners had the opportunity to compare the differences in the mint and where it grows by using all of their senses! Together we prepared a special lemon-mint drink. Teacher Veronica led the students in a lemon juicing activity in the kitchen as gardeners were carefully picking mint leaves. We show the same kavod, or respect to our plants as we do our friends and teachers. We are careful and gentle with whatever is growing or learning at the Gan. This connects beautifully with our director Bea’s vision for teaching and modeling respect and consent to the children.

I am so excited for this Jewish farming dream to grow at Gan Shalom, we have great areas that we can clear and build garden beds. There is so much value in exploring the seed to table experience with little ones. They will develop the skills to both care for each other and plants. We hope placing value on the environment at Gan inspires them to continue being Shomrei Adamah – guardians of the Earth!

Starting our Garden for the Year

Author: Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

Date: 23 January 2019

In the month of Shevat, we celebrate nature on the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, “the New Year of the Trees.”  This is an occasion for us to teach children about the cycle of nature, new life and how to respect nature and the environment.  This month at Gan Shalom is dedicated to re-starting our garden, planting new perennial and new seasonal plants. As our Outdoor Specialist Linda Lantos, a Gan Shalom parent and community member who helped lead this project said, “the beauty of having a school garden is that it is an ongoing endeavor, with kids able to observe the natural progression and evolution of the plants and seasons.” We hope for our garden to contribute to our Jewish learning about nature and science, and about respect of others, plants and the environment. The month of January in California is a perfect time to slowly re-start our garden that will continue to grow, sprout and bloom in the Spring and Summer.

Today in particular, our intention was to work with the youngest classroom (2-3 year olds) in the garden. We decided to plant edible plants and plants that could attract butterflies and other insects. This included borage, fennel, lemon verbena and Swiss chard. Linda, who is a parent of two children at our school, led Keshet in exploring plants before planting them in the ground – we looked at the different colors of the Swiss chard, we tasted the lemon verbena and the fennel, and we also touched borage who has a rough and furry consistency. The children dug a hole with shovels and then covered the new plants with soil, making ‘little blankets’ for the plants.

We observed the older children being very interested in the ganing routine. When the children came back out in the yard, I heard some of them talking about watering the plants, eating them and taking care of them. Given this level of interest, we decided with Linda to expand our project and Linda will come back next week to plant some seeds in the garden with the older class (3-5 year old).

It’s incredible how, just in a couple of days of work on the garden, children’s attention has already shifted on it, and on observing and caring for the nature around them. The teachers will now start working with the children to teach them how to care for the plants, how to water them, etc.


Celebrating Tu B’Shvat or the Birthday of the Trees

Author: Dr. Beatrice Jane Vittoria Balfour, Gan Shalom Director

Date: 22 January 2019

On January 22nd, 2019, we celebrated the Birthday of the Trees at Gan Shalom. Tu B’Shvat comes at the very beginning of the Spring, when rains are plentiful and some of the trees start to blossom. Tu B’Shvat is a time to celebrate nature!

Symbolically at Gan Shalom, we celebrated nature by revamping and restarting our garden after the cold months. Children love engaging with the garden, so we started our Tu B’Shvat celebration by setting up different planting stations.

One station was set up to plant a new almond tree in our Patio. Almond trees in California begin to flower in this season and our hope is that in the following years, our new tree will blossom around this time lighting up our patio during Tu B’Shvat. For us the garden is a parent/community project. The suggestion of planting the tree was made by Linda Press Wulf, a member of our synagogue, who contributed to the project by coming to visit our garden, making a plan with us about what to plant this year, and bringing to Gan Shalom the new tree.

Another station was at the wooden barrels in our backyard and it involved planting some parsley in one of the barrels. The aim is to grow the parsley and use it to celebrate Passover at Gan. Teacher Ann led this part of the project and some of the parsley is already gone as our children have planted it and tested it…

Another station involved planting edible flowers in a peat pot that children could decide to either take home or to leave at Gan for further planting in our garden. The peat pots can be planted directly into the soil as they are compostable and so they were a flexible and good tool for this project (they could both function as pots or could be planted in the earth).



The stations described above were explored by our older group 3-5 years old children. After this community and gardening time, the children went inside for a special Tu B’Shvat circle where Robin, head teacher of the downstairs class, led the Tu B’Shvat circle teaching children about animals and trees, and doing the blessings together. With the help of some parent volunteers we prepared some trays of food representing the different foods that we bless: Ha’adamah, Ha’etz, Mezonot, etc. We started with the grape juice and then went through the tray. We made it interactive and playful for the children to make Jewish learning experiential and fun. To do so, for example, we asked questions such as where do you think the almonds come from? Or, which part of the pomegranate do you think you can eat? Can you eat its shell?

Concurrently, our younger 2-3 year old classroom held their own celebration and gardening activities. They had a lunch during which they celebrated the birthday of the trees, lit the birthday candle for the trees, and did the blessing for eating apples, carrots, crackers, and even smelling and tasting cinnamon. After their lunch celebration, they went into the art-studio to plant violets in peat pots and decorated them.

It was a fun and exciting day for both of our classrooms that started to ignite their interest and fascination for the garden and the nature that surrounds them in the school while also learning about Judaism and particularly Tu B’Shvat in an experiential way. The celebration ended with 30 minutes of a special story time with our Jelly Jam teacher – Risa – who through story telling and dancing taught children about trees, their lives, and how to respect them.