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“The Garden” from Frog and Toad

by Arnold Lobel

Summary

Frog and Toad plant a garden and learn about patience and anger along the way.

Toad loves Frog’s garden so much that he decides to grow a garden for himself. It doesn’t take Toad long to realize that growing a garden can be hard work, especially if that work involves being patient. But did Toad really need to work as hard as he did, or would the garden have grown anyway?

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Stop-animation film of the story

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Everyone has heard the expression “patience is a virtue.” Yet, for as common as the expression is, it seems less common that it is given any serious discussion. A reading of “The Garden,” by Arnold Lobel, offers the perfect opportunity to unpack this common saying.

When Toad sees Frog’s beautiful garden, he immediately wants one of his own. Determined to have a garden at least as beautiful as Frog’s, Toad wastes no time in getting started. Soon after planting his seeds, Toad becomes distraught by the fact that he still does not have a beautiful garden. Toad becomes impatient. And he remains that way until he finally has his garden, at which time he declares, ironically, that growing a garden is “hard work!”. Understanding the humor in the little punch line of this story offers a glimpse into an important philosophical point about patience, and how having it can contribute to having a good life. Perhaps more importantly, the story offers a friendly reminder of how lacking patience can fill our lives with unnecessary anger and frustration. If we compare what the process of growing a garden was like for Frog to what it was like for Toad, the underlying idea that emerges is that Frog was somehow better off for having the patience that Toad lacked. There is a sense of virtue in Frog’s approach to gardening that is missing from Toad’s.

Perhaps a good place to begin a discussion of virtue is in the ethical views of Aristotle. Aristotle believed that really living the good life could only occur if a person was virtuous. To be virtuous means having a certain kind of control over yourself and an ability to judge the correct actions to take in a given situation. How best to judge the appropriate course of action comes from taking aim at the mean between two extremes: an extreme of excess and an extreme of deficiency. For example, being courageous means not being a coward, but it also means not being foolhardy. Aristotle referred to the extremes as vices and the middle ground as virtue.

Following Aristotle’s lead, if patience is a virtue, it is a quality of character that falls somewhere between a vice of excess (too much patience) and a vice of deficiency (impatience). “The Garden” seems to offer a comparison between two of the three of these. Frog seems to have just enough patience, while Toad does not seem to have any at all. While in the end, Toad finally gets the beautiful garden he wants, the process of growing that garden was quite different for him than for Frog. Growing a garden takes some work, but it also takes time, and whether one has the patience or not will have a large impact on the quality of life one has over the course of that time. For example, while both Frog and Toad planted seeds, watered them, perhaps even fertilized and weeded, Toad’s inability to be patient with the process had him upset, anxious and wasting his energy in all sorts of fruitless efforts. This makes the experience of gardening much less enjoyable for Toad than it could have been. One might even say that Toad’s life would have been better if he had not been so upset and worried during his gardening experience.

That there is only an example of having patience, and of not having it raises an interesting question. Is it possible to have too much patience? If patience is a virtue in Aristotle’s sense, then it is quite possible. Perhaps people with too much patience are willing to wait forever for something that will never happen. Imagine, for example, that unbeknownst to some aspiring overly patient gardener, the seeds she has planted are all sterile. Yet despite the fact that sprouts never break through the dirt, she has patience and continues calmly to do everything that is part of the garden-growing-process. Indefinitely perhaps, if she doesn’t “run out of patience!” Whether one thinks that it is possible to have too much patience or not, discussing why one thinks so is likely to lead to some lively debate.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

In the story, Toad started shouting and getting angry with his seeds.

  1. Why do you think he was angry?
  2. Have you ever felt angry when things are not happening fast enough?
  3. When you get angry, does your anger change the outcome of the situation?
  4. Do you think Toad was “right” to get angry?

Toad did not want to wait for the plants to grow.

  1. Have you ever tried to be patient when you really wanted something?
  2. What is patience?
  3. How do you know when you are being patient? Are there certain characteristics that belong to patience?
  4. If you distract yourself when you are being impatient, are you still being patient?
  5. Is it important to be a patient person?
  6. Do you think Toad would still have gotten angry with his seeds if he had been patient?

Toad sings and reads to the plants.

  1. When Toad sings and reads to the plants, is he making them grow faster or be more or less “afraid”?
  2. Why don’t the plants grow faster when Toad sings and reads to them?
  3. Are there ever times when someone tries to do something for you, but it doesn’t really help you? What would you tell that person?
  4. Do you think that if Toad was being patient, he would still try to sing and read to the plants? Why or why not?

Toad wanted a garden because he saw how beautiful Frog’s garden was.

  1. Have you ever wanted something someone else had?
  2. Is it wrong to want something that you do not have, but someone else does?
  3. Do you think that Toad was jealous of Frog’s garden?
  4. Do you think that feeling jealous can make someone be impatient?
  5. Can being impatient make you feel more jealous?
  6. What’s funny about Toad agreeing with Frog that gardening was indeed “hard work”?
  7. Do you think being impatient made Toad work harder than he had to?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Thomas Wartenberg and Jayme Johnson. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Frog and Toad Together featuring a frog and a toad riding a tandem bicycle. Both are wearing nice clothing. They are biking through a lush, green garden. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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