Crop Companions! Learning through Educational Board Games
Published Friday, Nov 16, 2018
This month at SEEDS, the theme of our lessons is Interdependence. We are exploring this concept socially and interpersonally, but also environmentally. You may or may not know that our Farm Manager, Trevor, frequently uses games to share complex concepts with our youth. These often take the form of scavenger hunts or activity sheets, but he occasionally dabbles in something more in-depth.
Crop Companions is a card game designed by Trevor, to give youth (and adults!) a hands-on experience with interplanting a garden or farm bed. Explaining how to interplant vegetables to maximize the space in a small planting area is one of the hardest concepts to convey to to anyone without experiencing it themselves over the course of multiple seasons. Google “companion planting” or “interplanting” and you’re likely to find a series of massive charts explaining the dos and don’ts of planting together. Trevor says he was not surprised when his attempt to teach this idea to the kids with charts and a lecture failed. He went back to the drawing board asking two questions:
1) How can I make this concept digestible?
2) What activities have gotten the kids most engaged and best able to retain information?
The answer to both questions was: a game.
To design the game, he tried to distill all those complex charts into a series of categories that would be easily denoted by graphical cues: Does the plant eat up a lot of nutrients from the soil? Does it prefer warm or cool weather? Is it slow or fast growing? He then took some of the classic interplanting combinations, such as the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash), matched them to the categories, and began to build the rules around those combos that we know function in the real world. The result is a game that is rich, bright, and colorful, but that operates without text, so that even our youth as young as 5 are able to learn and play the game. Seasons, growth habits, and roles are all depicted using colors and symbols, so that players can learn the rules and the lingo without ever reading a manual. Even the quick reference for rules and scoring are made using pictures.
Tools like Crop Companions are so valuable because they enable SEEDS staff to extend the learning season when the weather turns too cold to be outside for extended periods of time, all while continuing to learn new garden concepts throughout the year. Thanks Mr. Trevor!