Posted in reflection, social-emotional, technology

Reflecting on Designing a Blended Course

In the post-pandemic world of education, technology has remained a player on the educational team. Sometimes, as an add-on. Sometimes, as a reminder of those dark days of remote learning that we’d all like to forget about (how many of you currently have a stack of Chromebooks sitting idly on a shelf in your classroom? I thought so…). In some cases, however, teachers learned how useful devices and tech tools can be in the classroom. Rather than adding technology to an existing curriculum, how powerful would these tools be if curricula were designed deliberately around authentic and meaningful use of these tools in teaching and learning!

You can’t teach a student who isn’t at school…

A Blended Course on Chronic Absenteeism

As the teacher goes, so go the students. Likewise, teachers adopt the values modeled by their administrators. To help develop administrator comfort with the deliberate use of technology in the classroom as they examine the state of chronic absenteeism in post-pandemic education, a blended course of professional development was developed, incorporating technology in an authentic way to research, collaborate, share learning, and showcase skill growth and development.

Challenges in Course Development

When I was teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, my students often complained of their computers lagging, stating that they couldn’t log on because their Internet connection was unstable or that they were having difficulty accessing applications’ features because they needed to adjust the settings on their devices. I will confess that I often thought they were trying to avoid work when they did this. Even when they weren’t, it was frustrating to plan for a lesson but not for troubleshooting technical issues.

The development of this course turned the tables, and I quickly learned the frustrations of my former students as I struggled to upload videos that took hours to create due to slow video processing on my ancient laptop or balked at having to use a digital tool with which I wasn’t familiar (change is hard). Through my struggles, I learned that proper development of a blended or virtual course necessitates that the curriculum developer anticipate where learners will have trouble and plan for them ahead of time. I was comfortable anticipating the learning curve issues and planning for explicit instruction on the tools and techniques needed to use the embedded digital resources. I feel less prepared for technical issues that might arise, and know that a high-quality blended or virtual course must be vetted by those who are experts in the hardware and software.

Image credit: (c) 2012, Marc Prensky

Another challenge for the proposed course will be the vast entry points of the targeted audience: school administrators. Most of the younger administrators are what some refer to as “digital natives” and have not lived a day without iPhones, the Internet, and Instagram (EU Business School, 2021). Some older administrators have become “digital immigrants” and have become decent or even expert users of the technology; many are well-versed enough to lead their colleagues in learning even more ways to use technology in the classroom. There are some, however, for whom any use of technology – even creating a table in Word – provokes anxiety. All of these will be represented in the targeted learner population for this course, and anyone facilitating it must recognize that there will be a need to reteach, review, rewind, and encourage.

Redesign for an Audience of Teachers

This blended course was designed for access by school administrators, and the audience for their final product, while not graded, was to be polished enough for public presentation to a variety of outside stakeholders, including Boards of Education, Parent-Teacher Organizations, the Superintendent of Schools, or the District Data Team. How could this course be redesigned for use by principals with school teachers? It is all about the change in focus from school attendance and whole-school strategies to classroom attendance and in-class strategies.

The role of the classroom teacher in student attendance is an important one. Classroom practices can push students away from school and entice them to come (FutureEd, 2019). For example, punitive classroom practices have increased the likelihood of a student’s absence from class. On the other hand, one of my students recently came to school a bit under the weather and, when asked why stated that it was “Tasty Tuesday,” and he had earned the privilege of ice cream for a special snack that day.

Classroom practices can both encourage and discourage school attendance.

The course would be facilitated by the principal as currently written. The difference in the course when the participants are classroom teachers instead of administrators would be as follows:

  • teachers would use local school data (historical and real-time) instead of the public, school-wide data posted online by the Departments of Education;
  • teachers would be privy to more specific data regarding the reasons for individual students’ absenteeism and would be able to draw more accurate conclusions based on this;
  • teachers would use the lives of their students as case studies, extrapolating to discuss trends and patterns on a larger scale (whereas the administrators would use the “big” state data to then interpolate what was happening at their own school levels.

In essence, the course itself might not change from its current design. The facilitator, however, would need to plan probing questions that were more aligned with teachers’ experiences in the classroom and have knowledge ahead of time regarding classroom strategies to encourage attendance rather than whole-school strategies. The circumstances are similar to those of a consultant who presents a series on co-teaching to multiple school districts, multiple grade levels, and multiple student demographics: the presentation keeps its core content, but you need to adjust your table activities and reflection questions to suit your participant group.

Concluding Thoughts

The development of this course was a challenging experience that stretched both my curriculum-writing muscles and my comfort with various educational technology. I had built my “toolbox” up during remote learning and was comfortable with many tools, but admit my experience did not include many video resources. I appreciated how the curriculum writing process started with just three lesson plans – something any teacher can do – then systematically had us, as participants, find ways to authentically incorporate different audio, video, collaboration, and design tools as we rewrote and revised our work. This is a masterful way to create a curriculum, starting with what is most comfortable and then gradually layering in more novel elements.


EU Business School (2021). Digital natives vs digital immigrants. EU Business School.

FutureEd (2019). What can teachers do to improve student attendance? Teaching Channel.

Posted in mind, more seeds, social-emotional

All About Me

Welcome to All Kids Can Learn, a blog about all things educational. Whether you are a public school teacher, private school educator, administrator, or homeschooler, or whether your school is secular or spiritual in focus, I hope that you learn something that you can use

My Educational Background

Kim M. Bennett, Principal, Blogger, Special Educator (c) 2022.

My name is Kim Bennett. I have been an educator since 1987 when I began my formal educational career as a teaching associate in graduate school. I co-created several laboratory courses for non-agriculture majors, including four plant identification courses and a general horticulture class. I graduated from Cornell University and The Ohio State University with a major in landscape horticulture and a minor in agricultural education, focusing on urban forestry.

After graduate school, I taught and co-created adult education courses in agricultural worker protection and a general horticulture class for Home Depot garden center employees. After I had children of my own, I returned to school to earn additional teaching endorsements in early childhood education and preschool special education and then worked for nine years as a special education paraprofessional, preschool teacher, and grade three bilingual teacher.

After a period of 10 years working as an educational consultant in Connecticut, I felt the call of the classroom and returned to seek an additional endorsement in comprehensive special education, first practicing these skills as a literacy intern for the Connecticut Department of Corrections, then landing as a special education teacher for Natchaug Hospital Schools in a clinical day treatment school for students with mental health, addiction, and behavioral disabilities. During this time, I also homeschooled my youngest son from grade one through graduation from high school.

Four years into my time with Natchaug Hospital, I was honored to be able to complete my administrative endorsement and begin a position as the principal of the elementary program, where I remain today. I completed my sixth year in educational leadership and am halfway through my doctoral studies in curriculum and instruction. I hope to create social-emotional curricula to support students with chronic absenteeism issues.

On a Personal Note…

Gardening and country life are passions and sources of peace for me. (c) 2020.

Now I live a wonderful country life in North Franklin, Connecticut, surrounded by family, pastures, livestock, fresh air, and stars galore, with my husband and soul-mate, Anthony, my youngest son, Malik, a half-dozen rescued cats and a rescued (and now elderly) dog, plus whatever critters my youngest has squirreled away in his room. I enjoy writing, reading, cooking (and then eating!), spending time with my three adult sons and their families, and gardening. My current projects are a sweater I’m crocheting, some recently canned hot peppers, a sideboard renovation, and a new venture as a ColorStreet stylist.

My Professional Goals

Blogging has always been a joy, and I’ve had several blogs over the past 15 years, and this blog represents one of my professional goals: to educate others about issues that impact student success and ways that schools must change to address them. Working with students in the prison system and mental health facilities has taught me that there are more obstacles to student learning than their ability to read and do maths well. These are important, to be sure, but if a student is not in his seat at school, it doesn’t matter what reading program you are using. The sudden upheaval of COVID-19 in 2019 taught us that we must be creative and think of new ways to draw in and educate some students. Some of those students disappeared from classrooms, and we have yet to lure them back to school. Others have returned, but their performance has suffered from the disruptions of quarantines, remote learning, and changes in technology. Teachers today must think outside the core subjects and expand the notion of curriculum to include student engagement, social-emotional health, and parent involvement.

You cannot teach a student who is not in his seat at school.

My professional goals, therefore, and the purpose of this blog, are to increase educator knowledge and skills in these areas:

  • using classroom strategies to increase student attendance;
  • increasing student engagement by explicitly addressing students’ executive skills;
  • thinking outside the box to better support students and families in need.

Talk to Me…

If you have ideas for future posts, please contact me in the “Talk to Me” tab, and I’ll try to work the posts into the rotation.

Posted in literacy, reflection, technology

Digital Storytelling as Assessment

In Module 7, we used digital storytelling as a way to share important content information and to show facility with the use of a variety of educational technology tools. Digital storytelling is a novel way to share important content and share learning. Choosing to take the perspective of one of the participant’s chronically absent students compels the participant to leverage separate realities when describing the phenomenon of chronic absenteeism by focusing on the student and his/her family rather than the record-keeping and policies of the school and district. Doing this encourages new administrators to explore the “story behind the numbers,” especially when those numbers represent children. A digital narrative is an interesting alternative to a more traditional culminating product for the unit plan created at the start of CI6163.

Reflecting on the Digital Storytelling as a Writing Strategy

As an educational consultant, I was accustomed to guiding my participants (who were teachers, administrators, and other educational leaders) as they reviewed their school data, including behavioral and attendance data, often using Toyota’s “5 Whys” technique to push them deeper and deeper as they examined numbers, figures, and trends in their data. Anyone who has used the “5 Whys” technique knows that this strategy often unearths surprises and gets participants to consider things they normally might overlook. With a chronically absent student, this technique might look something like this:

Question: Student J was absent 57 days last year. Why (1)?

Answer 1: His parents call him out all the time.

Question: Why (2)?

Answer 2: They say he’s up all night, or “had a rough night,” or “off his sleep schedule,” and let him stay home to sleep.

Question: Why (3)?

Answer 3: He talks a lot about playing video games at night for hours to earn enough video game points to buy new “skins” (i.e., equipment/uniforms/gadgets that change the appearance of video game characters).

Question: Why (4)? 

Answer 4: Even though the clinician suggested that mom remove his gaming console from his room, she hasn’t done so. He has ready access to it all night.

Question: Why (5)?

Answer 5: When mom tries to address J’s screen time with him at home, he becomes aggressive and kicks holes in the walls, so she feels if he’s not aggressive, it’s better to leave him alone.

This case study process gives a writer great information that can be used to turn an attendance problem into a narrative that can be used in digital storytelling.

Reflecting on Digital Storytelling as an Assessment

All that being said, as a participant myself, I have never used digital storytelling to turn an informational piece into a narrative, although I feel like it would be a really interesting task. I am much more comfortable with expository writing, but using a case study approach and a real student’s perspective would be a great exercise, especially as it encourages me to consider the realities of students and families and the cultural differences between the families my school serves and me.

Reflecting on Technology and Assessment

I am becoming much more comfortable producing work using a video format. I still have trouble with a number of the digital tools presented in class: I can create and download videos but have difficulty exporting them to YouTube and other sharing platforms. I can only guess why this is so. One barrier might be the older nature of my laptop and its video card. The other possibility is that I live in an area notorious for sketchy and variable connectivity (I live in a rural area far from cell towers and other digital “hubs”). If I were to use these tools with students, I would need to ensure that all participants had suitable access and connectivity. I know how frustrating these technical problems can be, and I would not want that to be an obstacle to my students’ learning.

Posted in reflection, technology

Technology and the Learning Process

Module 5 presented information on two important aspects of learning: creating the proper environment for learning to take place, and demonstrating that learning. The discussion portion of the module challenged learners to consider a way to use educational technology to create an engaging opening learning task for a lesson previously developed in this course. The assignment portion focused on the creation of the ePortfolio described in this essay.

Technology and the Learning Environment

     While this module focused specifically on lesson openers, the full of this course lays the groundwork for developing course curricula and instructional units that infuse technology into all teaching and learning aspects in a variety of authentic ways. Prior to this course, I felt confident in my ability to use a variety of open educational resources (OERs) and other technologies in my instruction, and always considered myself an innovator or early adopter when it came to any new technological resource available to educators. This course has helped me not only increase my repertoire when it comes to the types of digital tools I know how to use, and how to use them effectively but has also taught me a more systematic approach to considering how and why to use digital tools in curriculum and instruction. In Module 5, using a digital tool as part of the opening learning task accomplishes a number of essential functions of opening activities (Hardin, 2013).

     Activation of Prior Knowledge. The opening activity designed for Module 5 activated learners’ prior knowledge, not only of the previously taught content but of the idea of a digital collaborative workspace – how to add to it, how to collaborate on content, and how to navigate it. Learners, in this case, new administrators, reviewed the difference between investigable and non-investigable questions as presented in a previous mini-lesson, then categorized the questions generated in the previous lesson based on the different types of investigable questions reviewed. This work was done via an OER,, and was done collaboratively, to scaffold learning.

     Engagement of the Learner. Many administrators meet and collaborate electronically today. While Zoom meetings are convenient, they can be tedious, especially when done routinely. Using a resource such as Padlet or to share, digitally manipulate and organize information creates a more active way for learners to participate in a lesson, and ensures 100% engagement of the learners, as they are physically typing, moving, and conversing about the content.

     Establishment of a Purpose for Learning. Hyerle posited that all knowledge has one of eight unique structures that can be symbolized with consistent visual patterns representing distinct thought processes (Thinking Maps, 2022). In the Module 5 discussion task, the opening activity uses a Circle Map to organize question types, and participants physically move the digital items about the learning space using computer mice and touchpads. The task helps organize the information, and also emphasizes the relationships among the pieces of information and the cognitive process involved (describing a central concept: investigable questions). The physical structure of the activity helps establish the purpose, as any organizer does.

Technology and Assessment

     I have used ePortfolios before, but never really moved past the use of ePortfolios as storage. I appreciated the way the Barrett article described the three levels of ePortfolios, starting with what was familiar to me – Level I – and working through Level II and Level III ePortfolios. It was my hope with this ePortfolio is that it most closely resembles the Level III use of portfolios, moving beyond a storage place, and past a reflective tool, to becoming an information source to others.

     I also appreciate the use of a blog not only as a journaling device but also as a curating system, where the content can be organized and cross-linked so that the information becomes “evergreen,” a blogging term that describes the content that is not bound in time, but is useful beyond the date that it is posted. This blog created in Module 5 is only used for the purposes of this class. As a long-term blogger, however, I learned a great deal about how to organize my blog so that it allows for both short, journal-style entries that chronicle daily life, and linked articles that pull posts together based on themes. I was once told that everything in a blog should point back to the blog. Using the system described in this module helps keep the blog organized and increases the number of clicks within the blog, as well.

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, reflection, special education

The Week in Review: Gardening, Growing and Gratitude

This Week’s Posts

I hope you have been following along with my back-to-school endeavors to maintain balance so I can do right for myself, my family and my students. If you’re just joining us, fear not! Here’s what we did last week…

Launching a Workshop Model in High School

For the past two weeks, I’ve worked on my new workshop schedule, trying it out with the kids after dabbling during summer school. I really think it will be a good way to keep kids engaged, no matter where they are. They like independence, with just enough support – and not too much talking! We’re going to a reduced day (5.5 hrs) instead of our early dismissal schedule at noon from the last two weeks. In the afternoon, I’ll add more hands-on tasks: digital journaling, garden work, science experiments… Stay tuned.

Getting in that Garden…

We had a few thundershowers this week, so I had to spend less time watering the new hydrangeas that my youngest son brought home from work for me. In the garden, I thought a lot about the things that nurture my soul:  teaching troubled teens, spending time in prayer and study, and time in the garden. Taking time to care for yourself is important in unpredictable times such as these. I hope you remembered to schedule it in your day.

I don’t garden because I’m the world best gardener – I’m not. I don’t have a good track record with houseplants, for example. They REALLY must have a sense of humor – and not mind being grazed on by cats. Here’s a shot of my new palm that sits behind me in my office. It just screams, “Please, chew on me!”

I DO love gardening, but not because I raise enough food on a quarter acre to feed my family through the zombie apocalypse. This year, between spring slugs, unbearable heat and weeks with little rain, I have managed to grow salad greens, arugula, a few cherry tomato plants and some herbs. Last weekend, I stuck some ornamental cabbage and kale in the ground, and planted one last round of beans, radishes and lettuce – fall gardening, to the rescue!

Gardening gives me (and my students) peace. Something about digging in the soil, the smell of the basil in the morning, the feeling of the sunshine on my back, the music of the warblers, cicadas and spring peepers. It’s the way a catbird eyes me and follows me as I weed, snagging grubs or beetles that I toss to the side. Kids and adults benefit greatly from getting outside in the garden. 

Peace and Gratitude

In the garden, I feel God’s presence. I see evidence of His qualities in what he created: beauty, and mathematics, and patterns, and music, and warmth, and freshness, and renewal. I can talk to Him, and He answers me with a breeze, in a slowly circling  buzzard, or a butterfly on a bit of clover.

A friend loaned me her son’s UCONN pompom to cheer on my colleagues on the first day of school. I’m waving it for YOU now! You’ve got this! Even Chiquita thinks so… {Image credits: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett

“Life-fulfilling work is never about the money – when you feel true passion for something, you instinctively find ways to nurture it.” ~ Eileen Fisher, Fashion Designer

School and Life Shopping for the Week

Admit it, teacher-friends: between back-to-school and COVID stay-at-home orders and quarantines, we have all developed a heavy-duty Amazon addiction. Sorry not sorry. I put some items in my overstuffed Amazon cart this week:

I’ve also been shopping for my new journaling love: washi tape. If you haven’t starting using it, I will warn you: once you do, you’ll want to put washi tape on anything you write. One of my girls saw me using it, and I just had to give her a roll. She is currently using it to bedazzle her Chrome Book.

Check Out These New Features:

  • This Week, in Five Photos: This week, you’ll see a recap of my adventures in the garden;
  • Planner Pointers: Pop over to read how I focused on starting my day with a statement of gratitude.

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, reflection, social-emotional, special education, spirit

This Week, in Five Photos: In the Garden

Gratitude, Growth and Gardening

This week, I headed outside into the garden, both at home and at school with my students. The garden was a source of peace and connection with the world for me, and some much needed break from screens and keyboards for my students.

School Garden Curriculum

At this writing, my fall radishes, lettuce and beans are already up, and the raised bed at school is awaiting cleaning and planting. I purchased The School Garden Curriculum for lesson ideas. The compost bins at school will be set up and ready to go for the fall, and the kids are using their new Google Docs skills to research and share ideas for planting their fall garden. Stay tuned!

On a personal note, my husband had his 8-month check up post heart transplant (January 21, 2020). He (and the new heart!) got a big gold star for doing great. I AM grateful…

Looking Ahead to Next Week…

My students have always enjoyed journaling. I have been turning my journal pages into art therapy of a sort. I think I’m going to start electronic journals with the students next week, and refer to the components in my journal as we go, starting with morning gratitude statements.

Our essential question for our first month is “What Influences the Way You Act?” Last week, we talked about culture, and family, and personal choices based on character. We even connected the concept to the early European explorers, discussing reasons why someone would want to be an explorer (desire for adventure, skills at navigating, quest for fame and power, need to be the leader over something…). To connect art with this study, I made a note in my “post-it note brain” to start vision boards with the kids next week. Gotta gather up those old magazines…

“Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come. It will not tarry” ~ Habakkuk 2:2

My Wish for You

I hope the week was a smooth, happy one for all of you. Enjoy your weekend, and remember: you are important in the lives of your students. You matter. You are working hard. I see you, and I love you.

Be well,

~ Kim

Posted in general education, homeschool, more seeds, parents, reflection, special education

Planner Pointers: Start Your Day With Gratitude

A Grateful Perspective

I once had an acquaintance who would say, “I’m grateful that I have an electric bill, because that means I have lights. I’m grateful to pay my rent, because that means I have a warm, dry place to sleep at night. I’m grateful for my bunions because it means I have feet. Some people don’t have any of those things.”

Gratitude does not mean ignoring the bad in life or pretending that your life is perfect. It means accepting it – no, being thankful for it – including the parts that are sad, unpleasant or disappointing, When you begin to approach each day on a positive note, and you do it over, and over, and over again, you begin to see a change in your whole outlook on life.

Be thankful for what you have. You will end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.

Oprah Winfrey

A Little Note of Gratitude

My planner has a place to write a morning message of gratitude. But you don’t have to have a printed space in order to write a gratitude statement. Find an unused square in your school-issued plan book, or jot a note at the top of the day’s page. Even a fancy post-it note at the top of the page works. The added bonus for the post-it is that, if you have to move it throughout the day to write in your plan book, you read the gratitude statement all over again, as a reminder!

Starting your day with a written note of gratitude can help shape the rest of your day in a positive way. {Image Credit: (c) 2020 Kim M. Bennett}

Be Honest… Be Grateful…

The friend I mentioned above didn’t try to get fancy with his gratitude. When you write statements, don’t feel the need to “dress them up.” Here are the things I was grateful for in August, as an example. You can kind of see the things we went through during August of 2020:

  1. The sound of crickets chirping in the early morning ~ reminds me of childhood.
  2. A new day.
  3. The freedom to get up early in the morning.
  4. Hot coffee.
  5. A tree fell on the house we USED to live in ~ and NOT the one we live in currently.
  6. Even when things have seemed hopeless, God has provided for all of our needs, “according to His riches in glory.” {Phil 4:19}
  7. Vacation.
  8. Extra sleep on Saturdays.
  9. A job that I love.
  10. The sounds of early morning: frogs, crickets, faraway traffic, a wren singing, “Teakettle! Teakettle! Teakettle!”
  11. New day – new ideas – new possibilities.
  12. Each day can be a “do over.”
  13. Living a life of gratitude.
  14. A restart after a not-so-good day before.
  15. Time to relax.
  16. Extra sleep.
  17. An extra early start (even though I didn’t choose it) – thanks to our dog.
  18. Quiet spaces to work and think.
  19. One more day of life.
  20. A family who loves me and takes care of me when I don’t feel well.
  21. A family who can manage things while I’m under the weather.
  22. Negative COVID test!
  23. A great night’s sleep.
  24. The excitement of getting up and writing every morning.
  25. Sunshine ~ because everything seems better when the sun is shining.
  26. Fresh autumn air in the morning.
  27. Being able to return to work.
  28. My son is feeling better and can go back to work soon.
  29. A day to rest when I don’t feel well.
  30. One more weekend day.
  31. The return of the students to the building ~ I’ve missed them!

I’m laughing about all the references to extra sleep. My normal day is 4:00 am to 9:00 pm. It’s a luxury for me to sleep until 6:00 am. I don’t often do it, even on no-work days.

Living a life of gratitude starts with one simple statement ~ “Today, I’m grateful for…” {Image credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Your Challenge ~ 30 Days of Gratitude

Self Journal

Don’t wait for the 1st of a month – start tomorrow. At the top of your planner, before you even begin the day, jot down one thing that you’re grateful for. Do this every day for 30 days. At the end of the month, see how much better you feel.


Posted in body, general education, health, homeschool, mind, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, science, social-emotional, special education, spirit

Gardening with Children

The Importance of Outdoor Time

Earlier this week, we focused on some of the benefits of having a fall garden at your school or in your yard (for those of you who are homeschoolers or remote learning families). We also reviewed the social emotional skills that children practice when they are active participants in gardening.

Whether you are tending a planter with a few annuals, cleaning trash from school plantings, or creating an organic garden that feeds the students, just 15 minutes a day outside has been proven to enhance the well-being of children and adults of all ages.

Need more information or resources? See the sections below for information on gardening with children, with the focus age level noted: P = infants, toddlers and preschool; EC = early childhood (grades K-2) years; E = elementary grades (grades 3-5); A = all ages

Whether your garden is a small planter or a 1/4 acre organic plot, gardening with kids brings benefits to children of all ages. {Image Credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

10 Resources on Gardening with Kids

I recently purchased The School Garden Curriculum, by Kaci Rae Christopher. It has 280 pages of weekly lesson plans and links to online printables, for Grades K-8 (although I plan to adapt the lessons for my older students, too). If you’re not looking into purchasing something, check out these resources, below. Don’t let the homeschool sites distract you – sometimes we “credentialed” educators make teaching and learning unnecessarily complicated. Less really is more when it comes to good learning.

Some sprouted potatoes in an old trash can full of leaves = a no fuss garden for any backyard. {Image Credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Ready… Set… Garden!

I love testimonials. Share your wins, your lessons learned, other resources other people MUST have.

Now go outside. It’s time to garden.

Posted in body, general education, health, homeschool, mind, more seeds, outdoor education, parents, science, social-emotional, special education, spirit

Cultivating Social Emotional Skills Through Gardening

The Need for Social Emotional Learning TODAY

Many people bemoan all the changes that have occurred since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019. It’s been especially hard for teachers, who have suddenly become essential, not just to our students, but to society, offering wrap-around support to families, providing a safe place for kids to go while parents try to navigate no jobs / different jobs / changed hours / changed childcare / working from home. Schools feel pressure to open because kids need stability, parents need to work and society needs to find SOME sense of normalcy. We all crave a sense of normalcy.

Children are resilient – at least on the outside. But many of us who have spent our lives working closely with children know that stress often shows up wearing different clothes in kids, than it does in adults. Kids might sleep more – or not sleep. They might be noisy and provocative, or exceptionally quiet and compliant. Previously learned self-care routines (toileting, turn-taking, rules-following) may regress. Some kids might vanish from our rosters. We have been instructed, therefore, to pay especially close attention to social emotional learning and the mental health needs of our charges, as they return to the classroom this fall.

A garden is a perfect place for students to practice social emotional skills. {Image Credit: (c) 2014, Kim M. Bennett}

The Five Elements of Social Emotional Learning

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) promotes the incorporation of social emotional skills into students’ daily curriculum, not just to support their social emotional needs, specifically. Boosting students’ skills through social-emotional learning (SEL) has also been shown to increase their academic performance (Durlak et. al., 2011).

CASEL identifies five proficiencies in SEL: self-awareness, self- management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. As a special educator, I find that addressing social skills – or any skills, in fact – through real-life situations gives them relevance and leads to better mastery. Such real-world situations might include service learning projects, special school events, classroom management tasks and similar activities.

Gardening to Support SEL

Working in a classroom garden can be an excellent opportunity to practice five strategies that will give students a chance to work on these five proficiency areas. Each strategy is coded to show what area it supports: self-awareness (A); self-management (M); social awareness (S); relationship skills (R); responsible decision-making (D). In child-friendly terms, Kaci Rae Christopher, author of The School Garden Curriculum, refers to three principles, which reflect these nicely: Care for Self, Care for Others and Care for the Land.

Show Responsibility for Something (A, D, M)

Elementary teachers know the power of “job charts.” I once knew a veteran teacher who used a colorful, cardboard wheel with student names and classroom jobs. She had about nine wheels in her closet, to pull from depending on how many kids she had in a given year. Teachers are resourceful!

Teens like responsibility, too. Knowing that a living things depends on them increases that sense of responsibility. Having the living thing be a plant instead of a class pet makes it a little more risk-free. Having a set time for gardening each day or week, and a job chart that rotates tasks among kids, gives kids a chance to get outside in a purposeful way, gives them a creative outlet, and gives them parameters to work within.

Use Collaboration and Cooperation to Accomplish a Task (M, R, S)

Anyone who has ever been involved in hiring or sports teams knows the importance of having an individual who can work with others. In basketball, you don’t need five people fighting to shoot the ball. Being able to contribute by fulfilling a role that is in harmony with the roles of others is a “soft skill” that is important for adult living.

Having a variety of jobs for students to do individually (planting an area, watering, weeding, sign creation) or with a peer (moving bags of soil/mulch. making a plan) gives kids a chance to work in harmony with others, either directly or through parallel, yet connected, tasks.

Demonstrate kindness toward people and other living things (A, M, S, R)

I work with teens with social-emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. Being kind is something that sometimes is difficult for them, as is relating to others in a healthy way. We often ask our students to reflect on whether they prefer to work with people, technology or other living things. People is often their last choice, because working with other people is hard. For ALL of us!

Working with plants provides students a chance to practice kindness toward other living things in a more risk-free scenario. It might seem silly, but students DO develop an affection for the plants they plant, tend and observe. These skills can then be transferred to other living things, as they develop.

In addition, caring for something else often enables students to look outside themselves for a moment, and be relieved of their inner stressors.

Make decisions based on evidence (D)

I was once gifted a chrysanthemum as a plant for my classroom, for my birthday. One of my students took on the responsibility of watering it daily. He was terribly dismayed when the blossoms turned brown and dried up, scolded me about watering the plant with cold coffee (something I confess to – and which doesn’t hurt plants), and proceeded to overwater the plant because “it’s DYING, Miss!” I had to explain to him that blossoms don’t last forever. The plant blooms, the flowers do what they do, then they fade. I showed him that the leaves and stem still looked green and healthy. We hunted until we found a withered flower with seeds forming, so I could show him the natural order of things.

Getting students to observe, ask questions, do research then make good decisions is one of those overarching skills that can be used in all aspects of daily living.

Reflect, set goals and work toward them (A, M, D)

As fall turns to winter, as plants give up their harvest and die for the season, students have the opportunity to contemplate what went well, what the possibilities are for continued gardening, and what they want to and need to do as next steps. This organized, strategic thinking extends into all aspects of life, and helps kids begin to practice some forward thinking, choosing their actions now in anticipation of the goal they are working toward.

Getting that Garden Going…

In the previous post, I shared some ideas for fall gardening. If vegetables aren’t your think, you can scatter wildflower seed, plant a fall flower garden, or decorate with a harvest theme, using decorative gourds, mums and a scarecrow. There really are so many possibilities – and all of them a good way to foster social emotional learning in your students, get them outside and active, and give them a break from screen time during a distance learning day.

Share your photos! As for me, I’m heading to Home Depot right now…

gardening and social emotional skills
Gardening helps kids learn how to regulate their behavior, make decisions based on evidence, and work collaboratively. {Image Credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett
Posted in body, general education, homeschool, mind, more seeds, outdoor education, science, social-emotional, special education, spirit

Fall Gardening ~ For Kids and Their Teachers!

Fresh Air, Sunshine and Soil

If you’re like me, you get out of school in June, throw yourself into your garden after a long winter and longer school year, retreat inside when it’s too hot to fool around outside. Then – BOOM! – it’s September and we’re back at school.

This year, I want to get in that garden, even if it’s September. Luckily, there are many things you can grow now that, unlike in the summer, the students will be around to eat. Here are some of the fall veggies that you can stick in the ground with your students, getting them outside in the sunshine (sunshine DOES kill germs!), and teaching them about healthy eating choices – something I desperately need after 6 months of being shut in, in front of a computer monitor.

A handful of fruits and veggies you grow yourself can be the healthy reward for a fall garden with students. {Image Credit (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Fall Crops for New England

  • Cole Crops: Cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, radishes, bok choy, broccoli and broccoli rabe all enjoy cooler weather, as do their greens cousins, kale and mustard. In the fall, they also avoid the cabbage loopers which are unwelcome guests in the spring. Buy transplants to jump start your garden – and no worries about an unexpected cold snap: these fellas can often be left in the garden into the cold months.
  • Fancy Mustard Greens: There are some fancy varieties of mustard greens to look for and try out from seed. The good thing about greens is that you can eat them whenever you want – if it looks like the weather is going to turn foul, just harvest them as baby greens. Try mizuna, tatsoi, and other varieties.
  • Beans: Here in Connecticut, the shoreline moderates the temperature enough where you just might be able to get some string beans in before frost, if you put them in now. Fava beans can be left in the ground longer, if your climate is a little warmer, as well.
  • Peas: Peas, like cole crops, like cooler weather. Snow peas don’t need to develop seeds, so, like the greens, you can harvest them a little early if the weather starts to turn on you in October.
  • Cilantro: Unlike many of the other herbs in the dill family, cilantro prefers a little cooler climate. Sprinkle some in the bed for some fresh herbs before frost, and make some pesto or salsa with the kids.
  • Fall Chrysanthemums: Add some color to your veggie patch at home or school with some fall mums that are ready to plant – no growing necessary.
Many crops you would plant in early spring do well in fall weather – and can be harvested before frost. {Image Credit (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett}

Get Outside and Plant this Fall!

Gardening and being outside offer many health benefits to adults and children, especially in these times when outside opportunities over the summer were greatly reduced due to infection control. Make an effort to incorporate outdoor time and gardening into your home or school routines this year.

And post a photo of your fall victory garden in the comments! I love gardens…