Growing Minds Field Trip a Favorite

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children hold worms in their hands

Students delight in holding a red wiggler at the vermicomposting station.

For eight weeks each spring, the Discovery Gardens at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Onslow County buzz with student activity. Students look forward to visiting the gardens because the Extension Master Gardener℠ volunteers who lead this annual field trip make learning fun. 

The program, known as “Growing Minds,” lives up to its name with stimulating, interactive, hands-on lessons about nature that resonate with youth. Over the course of two hours, students rotate through six different stations staffed by Master Gardener volunteers. “It’s a fast-paced program,” shares Master Gardener volunteer Jan Smith.“Every 17 minutes the children rotate to the next station. When the children hear the cowbell ring, they know it’s time to move on.”

woman milks plywood cow model

The Fun on the Farm station includes an opportunity to try milking Bessie, the demonstration cow.

Demonstrations and activities include the life cycle of a plant, vermicomposting, water quality, pollination, snakes, and farm life. Students love to peer at worm cocoons and have a chance to hold a red wiggler at the vermicomposting station. They appreciate the clean water that comes from their kitchen sink after building a model of a water treatment plant. And they leave knowing the difference between venomous and nonvenomous snakes, and how to stay safe.

The program, which started 15 years ago, requires a significant number of volunteers. But when both students and volunteers are having such a good time together, it hardly feels like work. “Area teachers have been bringing their students on the Growing Minds field trip for many years. They know it’s a big hit with the children,” says Smith. “More recently, homeschool families are joining us.” 

Master Gardener volunteer teaching kids about seeds.

The Sensational Seeds station describes the life cycle of a plant.

In 2019, due to popular demand, Master Gardener volunteers expanded the program to host student field trips both in the spring and in the fall. While programs were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Master Gardener volunteers are now working to adapt so that the programs may be delivered virtually along with classroom kits sent to schools. Banner - Search for Excellence - redIn recognition of this important work, the Master Gardener volunteers in Onslow County were awarded the 2020 Search for Excellence Award in the youth category. This award recognizes outstanding Extension Master Gardener volunteer educational projects that result in significant learning.

Congratulations to Master Gardener volunteers Celeste Cavanaugh, Mark Detrich, Lester Exton, Linwood Fordham, Jane Fugate, Ebony Harrison, Lacy Jenkins, Polly Kopka, Ginger Melton, Bob Owen, Johnny Pickett, Anita Potts, Linda Powell, Star Ragan, Jean Rebholz, John Ricker, Mindy Rusch, Leny Silva and Jan Smith.

volunteer shows students a jar of muddy water

At the Clear as Mud station, students learn how water is filtered and cleaned for drinking.

To learn more about the Extension Master Gardener program in Onslow County, contact Emilee Morrison, N.C. Cooperative Extension Horticulture Agent, 910-455-5873.

About the North Carolina Extension Master Gardener Program

NC State Extension Master Gardener volunteers connect people to horticulture through science-based education and outreach that empowers North Carolinians to cultivate healthy plants, landscapes, ecosystems, and communities. To learn more about the NC State Extension Master Gardener program in your community, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension Center.