‘Wet and Dirty but a Lot of Fun’

Alaynna Bartman proudly eyes a false sunflower, one of several she and other Ken-O-Sha Elementary students planted in their school’s prairie

Strollers and bicyclists ambling through Ken-O-Sha Park this summer may notice some plants sticking up from a field behind a nearby school. Those would be the fruits, so to speak, of a prairie-planting project by students at Ken-O-Sha Elementary School.

Wielding trowels and toting the occasional toad, Ken-O-Sha students in late spring added new plantings to the acre-sized prairie begun last fall. Neighborhood volunteers and Blandford Nature Center teamed up to create the prairie of native Michigan plants, while teachers incorporated the plants into their classroom lessons.

Third-grader Keira Shadowfox looks pleased with her discovery of a baby toad

Poster boards packed with information about milkweed, Indian grass and other plants were on display at a year-end planting celebration, where parents dug into the dirt alongside their children. A chorus of children greeted them singing: “There are so many things that grow, grow, grow. There are flowers and trees and chimpanzees, mice and rats and little kitty-cats …”

“It feels really good to help make more nature,” said Amaya Eggleston, one of the fourth- and fifth-grade students who made a blue vervain poster. “We learned all kinds of different things, outside and inside.”

Second- and third-graders went to Blandford last fall to learn more about the native Michigan plants that grow there, then returned to help spread seeds on the prairie. Every grade was assigned a different plant to study, with teachers wrapping the lessons around ecosystems and social studies.

Students will continue the project each year and see the results as the prairie grows, said Principal Stephanie Villalta. “I can guarantee you that they have not had this close an experience (before) with seeds, with the plants and the realness of it,” she said.

Planting will continue over the summer, and a rain garden is under way. Alison Googins, a neighbor leading the project with her husband, Jason, told parents, “We know we’ve gotten your kids wet and dirty, but we’ve had a lot of fun.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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