Seedschool: Planting Seeds of Learning

A North Dallas Garden-School Is a Site for Discovery

Photography by Jennifer Kate Stuart

September to September is the cycle of the school year, but also of a garden. There comes planting time, then the quiet of winter, then the sprint of spring and summer. The notion that children need their hands in the dirt is a given for Seedschool founder and director Jennifer Kate Stuart. Tucked away behind an old church off Mockingbird Lane and the Dallas North Tollway, Matilda the school bus and Seedschool await the digging, mud muffin-making, leaf-raking, seed-planting four- to eight-year-old students. There’s a world of learning to do.

Stuart had always worked in traditional early childhood education, but one particular school her daughter attended—where “the children were just as likely to be up in a tree as they were to be sitting at a table doing some work,” Stuart says—inspired her: when she started her own school again after a hiatus, the outdoor space would be more important than the indoor space.

So Stuart bought a school bus, named her Matilda, and built a classroom inside, with fruits and vegetables she hand knit and felted and added to a play kitchen alongside books and blocks. Twelve Hills Nature Center in North Oak Cliff was the first home to her mobile Seedschool for a year and a half, offering nature walks. But only when she moved to her current location, in late 2019, was she able to plant an edible garden—the de facto classroom.

Such were Seedschool’s humble beginnings. e rst version of the garden plot became a victim to flooding. But now it’s a haven for the diversity of small crops Stuart and the children plant and harvest. “It’s not enough that we can donate it” or do very much with it save eat it themselves, with a rinse. In part, Stuart says, this is because “I like to plant a lot of different things: I want the children to see dierent types of seeds and plants”—to be exposed to the myriad lessons of growth. And so bounty in variety means paucity in yield of any one thing.

The bounty itself: kale, chard, lettuces, herbs, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, okra, wild dandelion. “The children love to run over and grab pieces of mint or basil to taste,” Stuart says. They learn that okra is best when raw and tender off the stem, and tomatoes are best warmed by the sun.

Jennifer Kate Stuart uses the outdoors as her classroom

“We do a lot with our hands,” Stuart continues. “We love our hands feeling the dirt.” Sticks help ngers with the planting they do from seed. Child-size rakes tackle piles of leaves. A hose irrigates just enough, just when it’s needed. A harvest basket holds the homegrown haul. An outdoor mud kitchen is a place for making “dishes” that change with the seasons: acorn stew in the fall, or a soup that “becomes more oral” in spring with the addition of purple monkey grass flowers. Handfuls of dirt are drizzled like seasoning.

Meanwhile, Stuart asks for wholesomeness and eco-friendliness in the school lunches the adults pack: as little processed or plastic-wrapped food as possible.

In the child-led environment, with its benefits of mixed-age learning, “Mostly, I just let them notice that I’m doing something,” Stuart says, without pushing them into activities. Curiosity leads. Seedschool children explore and learn at their own pace, unencumbered by clocks and schedules. They freely choose activities and develop projects that spark their interest and therefore “stick.” Adult guidance behind the scenes takes the form of carefully chosen learning materials and an environment that supports adventurous, yet safe, possibilities.

The process is full of discoveries. Math and physics join culinary and aesthetic learning. Sometimes it’s the depth at which to plant tiny tomato seeds (not too deep!); other times the orientation of a buried garlic bulb (pointy tip facing up). A large in-process “hole” project that fills with rainwater or presents an engineering challenge when the team encounters a rock can also become a splashing zone, a matter of ongoing observation and play. Mint is sweet, arugula is sharp, lettuce is soft and mellow. The children compare as they pick and nibble.

“They’re very aware of how things grow,” Stuart says of her gardener-students. “And that translates into awareness of the rest of the world and what’s going on.” That’s Seedschool’s mission, after all: We are planting seeds of awareness.

IG @seedschoolbus


Diet can have a profound effect on learning and growing and a well thought-out lunchbox does more than just quell hunger pangs. Here are my tips:

Remember to start the day with a nutritious breakfast containing some protein, fruit, and carbohydrates to fuel your child’s day.

Be a supermarket sleuth and read labels to avoid foods with additives such as artificial colors or flavors, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and anything that isn’t, well, food.

Emphasize organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and whole dairy foods.

Avoid sodas and beverages containing caffeine, opting instead for water, whole milk, pure fruit juice, or herbal tea.

Make a one-time investment in washable, reusable serving and packing materials, and cloth napkins to minimize waste. Look for stainless steel bento-style boxes, glass or ceramic bowls with lids, and cloth or beeswax food wraps. Skip plastic food storage bags, straws, and other single-use items. Consider buying in bulk and packaging in reusable containers rather than buying individual cups of yogurt and single-serving convenience snacks. Offer water in a reusable, non-disposable bottle.

Involve your child in lunch packing. Let them select (from approved choices) the foods they most enjoy eating and charge them with wrapping and packing. If they take ownership of this important meal, they are far more likely to actually eat it!

Seedschool Farm Garden Greens and Weeds Salad

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EVE HILL-AGNUS teaches English and journalism and is a freelance writer based in Dallas. She earned degrees in English and Education from Stanford University. Her work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, and the journal Food, Culture & Society. She remains a contributing Food & Wine columnist for the Los Altos Town Crier, the Bay-Area newspaper where she stumbled into journalism by writing food articles during grad school. Her French-American background and childhood spent in France fuel her enduring love for French food and its history. She is also obsessed with goats and cheese.