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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
Here, in Connecticut, it seems like we went from winter to 90’s and haven’t looked back since June.
Since our house is a rambling old Tudor, the upstairs gets… well… rather “toasty” in the summer. Those big windows that let all the delicious light in during the winter create a mini-greenhouse in the summer. We broke down and put in the air conditioners this past weekend.
At school, I find myself reminding my teens about proper hydration, especially since there are a few of them that need motor breaks and outdoor time to refocus partway through the day.
Because we have a looser schedule in the summer (reading, writing and math, a social-emotional learning lesson and an extra period for reinforcing behavioral skills), I was looking for some lessons on self-care, and thought about teaching my students about how to keep hydrated when the weather is so hot.
The Importance of Drinking Enough Water
Here are some important facts about water and the human body:
Your body is 50-65% water. Men are more “watery” than women, on average.
The water in your bloodstream is like an HVAC system. It distributes heat evenly, keeping your temperature constant.
Water is part of every chemical reaction in your body. All the enzymes that make you “go” need water in order to work.
You need water for proper sanitation. Without water, well… you just can’t pee and poop properly. And sweat contains salt wastes, as well as helping to cool you when you’re hot.
Water is the most important “nutrient” in you diet. A person can live without food for a long time, but only for 3 days without water.
The rule of thumb is you should drink half of your body weight (lbs) in ounces of water. For example, a 160-lb teen should drink 160/2, or 80 oz of water. That’s a little more than a half gallon of water a day! Fear not, however: eating fresh fruits and vegetables can give you a lot of that water.
If it’s hot outside, if you have a fever, if you don’t feel well, if you’re exercising … then you will need more water. In general, if you aren’t feeling your best, if you’re tired or cranky, start out with a glass of water — it might do the trick!
Lessons on Health and Hydration, by Grade Level
I did a quick search of lesson plans on water and nutrition. Here are a few lesson plans that I though looked especially good. Let me know in the comments if you try them or if you find other ones to add to the list:
Pick the lesson plan you use based on the comprehension level of your students, then choose the reading materials based on their reading level. For example, my summer school students are teens, so I would deliver the content using one of the junior high or high school plans. However, since they don’t read at that level right now, I would give them student materials at the elementary or upper elementary levels. (NOTE: you can use ReadWorks to find reading materials if the ones in the lessons are not the right level for your kids).
Do you have favorite lessons or activities that you use to teach your students the importance of drinking enough water? Link them up, below!
For many of my students (and, perhaps, yours, too), the only reliable meals they might get are the free breakfast and lunch served while they are at school. This has been so for as long as I’ve been a teacher.
Currently, the Annie E. Casey Foundation estimated that, in 2018, approximately 14 million children (that’s 19% of the children under age 18 in our country), lived in a food insecure setting. In Louisiana and New Mexico, the numbers were the highest: as many as 28% of the children there lived without reliable meals at least some part of the year.
As a summer school teacher, I always worked in high-need areas, where my summer school site was also a summer feeding site. We served a lot of kids. As a classroom teacher, I always had food in a desk drawer, ready for someone who hadn’t eaten that day. And my schools always sent home extra food with a few students whose living situations merited an extra hand.
Did you know there are free summer meal programs all over the United States?
Below are links to tools for states that have local summer meal programs. Please click on your state to find where kids in your area can get food for the summer. Most sites offer food to any child under the age of 18 who visits the site. Some states have eligibility requirements.