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…
From the time they were born, they’ve held some kind of electronic device in their baby hands: a cell phone, a remote, a game console controller… Their classrooms, likewise, are full of technology that the rest of us never even dreamed of, including interactive white boards, document cameras, digital recorders and web cams, and 1:1 Chrome books and iPads.
Many of us charged with teaching said students with said devices are, unfortunately, technology immigrants. We may have assimilated well (or not) into the world of technology, but it doesn’t come second nature to us. Consequently, there are many of us who use our Promethean board as simply a tool to project videos while the kids eat snack.
And, of course, there is a growing anti-technology movement, based on the very clear evidence of some very real, and detrimental, effects of excessive screen time to the minds, bodies and spirits of kids and adults.
It is safe to say that the digital world is here to stay. There is no doubt that electronics, today, bring many benefits to our lives: the digital mammogram I just had is instantly readable by all of my doctors; my cell phone and a Roku app replace the TV remote that died because it sat in water on the coffee table; the music from my Pandora account streams live to two Onyx speakers in my house, so I can clean and listen to Bonnie Raitt at the same time; I can look on my laptop to see who came to my door at home, while sitting at my desk at work.
In what ways will I use technology to enhance my students’ lives and learning this year, while making sure that they live balanced lives, in the process?
Technology Tools in Today’s Classrooms
There is an amazing graphic that’s been around for a number of years, which shows about a zillion (okay, that’s an exaggeration) apps that correspond to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Perhaps you’ve seen it?
My students prefer to have real textbooks, but they are much more engaged when I incorporate interactive technological tools into my daily lessons. The “menu” above is a good start, but there are now so many more!
What’s on My Technology Menu for 2019-20?
Here are the apps and websites I’m using with my students this year:
Old Standby: ReadWorks: I have used this free website to download leveled articles for all subjects for a number of years. Last year, I began using some of the other features as part of my explicit instruction in language arts.
articles have an option be projected onto my Promethean board for whole-group lessons
the Article-a-Day feature can be used to build background knowledge on a new topic with my students
I can rotate through a number of articles on the same topic, on different Lexile levels, through the course of the week, so students can apply learned skills to increasingly difficult texts
the comprehension questions can be sorted by question type, for monitoring IEP goals and objectives
there are question sets for specific skill areas (e.g., Author’s Purpose questions, vocabulary questions)
This summer, I used ReadWorks articles to assess Oral Reading Fluency as well as Silent Reading Fluency, once a week for all students on my caseload. One downside to ReadWorks is that there are fewer articles at the higher Lexile levels. Enter my new favorite literacy site…
My New Favorite: Newsela: Like ReadWorks, Newsela offers leveled passages for students to read, and comprehension questions to answer. This summer, I set up a free version of the account, and invited my summer school students to participate. While we considered and declined to purchase a PRO account (it was pricey), the free version was well-liked by my students, and will become part of our regular instruction this coming year.
students can control the readability of the text in real-time, and see the changes when they adjust the Lexile level
they can monitor their own progress, and have learned how to choose a “just-right” level, or a challenge level, by viewing their “binder”
there are more selections at the higher reading levels than in ReadWorks
there are fewer questions at the end than with ReadWorks
by logging into the students’ accounts, I can see their overall progress, as well as sort their data by question type (NOTE: with the PRO version, there is a teacher dashboard, but not with the free version – so I make it part of my conference with the student to log into their account with them)
Newsela is a useful learning task for independent work during the literacy block
Have to Try: Last year, I struggled to teach literary themes to my students, until, out of desperation, I began playing popular music for them from YouTube videos. Students were quickly able to identify the theme when it was embedded in music.
A colleague introduced me to Teach Rock, which has over 150 lesson plans and 16 units of study for teaching literary ideas through the study of popular music through the ages. We dabbled with it this summer, and I’m working it into my Language Arts work for the school year. Stay tuned!
Tools to Use: I have a handful of students who struggle with writing, either because they have difficulty spelling the words they want to use, or their physical writing process is slow and laborious. I introduced them to Windows Speech Recognition, which comes free with your Windows OS. You simply go into your settings, under Accessibility features, and activate it, so it runs in the background. With a command, it turns on, enabling students to speak their written responses. Early results show that the students are interested. NOTE: as with the voice commands on your phone, it does take time to learn how to talk so that the computer understands you, and to train the computer to understand your voice. I advise assigning particular computers to particular students, to help with that.
Old Standby: I have been using Khan Academy with students (including my own homeschoolers) for years now. Many of you probably have, too. Khan Academy is free, and is especially strong in the area of mathematics, although this summer I started using the computer courses for students who needed a technology class for graduation.
students can be assigned individualized work to meet IEP goals and objectives
students can be assigned re-teaching work, based on their grade-level assignments
Khan Academy can be used as an anchor activity, while you work with a small group on other skills
I have had students use Khan Academy outside of school, toward credit recovery
users can log in anywhere – helpful when kids are homebound, hospitalized or absent for any reason
there are initial quizzes that help determine a starting place, then a course is charted for the student
I have also used Khan Academy as part of an enrichment group in an elementary setting
Some students find that there is too much reading involved – this can be a barrier for students with reading difficulties.
Tools to Use: One of my teens has difficulty subtracting with regrouping, and I didn’t have base 10 blocks in my summer school tools. I discovered virtual base 10 blocks that I can use on the Promethean board at CoolMath4Kids. The kids love using the virtual manipulatives on the board – check out their site for more manipulatives.
Science & Social Studies
Old Standby: I have a free account to Kids Discover, which has thousands of online articles, units of study and infographics, on high-interest topics of current interest, with built-in interactive parts. You can use the articles on your interactive white board. Every week, you’ll get access to a selection of free topics – more than enough to use for your entire curriculum, if you’re a homeschooler. My teens in my CDT class like it for a change up. There is a paid version, but I have not used that one.
useful for current topics (to supplement your regular curriculum with timely articles)
could be used for independent reading assignments
texts are high-readability for most high school students
colorful, interesting layout
Have to Try: My assistant shared the website Recyclebank with me. All of the articles are geared toward green living, health, ecology and the environment. The articles include links to high-quality, non-fiction articles from good sources, such as the Department of Environmental Protection or the USDA. There are fun elements, such as the Question of the Day. Reading articles and taking quizzes earns points, which can be redeemed for magazines and other items.
I like to have online current events sites that we can explore without a set assignment. I plan to use this site to teach kids how to efficiently explore and evaluate online sources, and to teach them how to build a reading log using online sources.
One “old standby” which I’ve used as a homeschooler, but which I will start using this year, is Journey North, a nature-based, citizen-science website. In a survey of possible topics of study, my students selected “nature walks” and “nature study” as preferred topics. One of my students recalled using a bald eagle “nest cam” in his middle school class. Again, stay tuned!
Tools to Use: Over the summer, I’ve been experimenting with a number of digital tools and looking for ways to incorporate them into my instruction, in an authentic way.
I am fiddling around with creating infographics in Canva, using the free service. It is a powerful app, but with that power comes a lot of information. I created a circle map about the influence of the Norwich Millionaires, and I’m thinking that we might practice this one type of graphic, using Canva in our US History class to continue to emphasize similar relationships in history.
One app that I’m planning to use to organize my classroom presentations is Sutori, another powerful digital tool, even when using the free version. I used the free version to create a timeline presentation of the early history of the city of Norwich, Connecticut. I feel it could be a great way to organize lesson materials, and will experiment with this in the coming year (see the linked blog post for a discussion on the use of Sutori to organize unit materials).
Old Standby: For the past several years, I have used a paid subscription to PlanBook Plus . It takes a little bit of time to enter plans if you use all the fields (I personally like to include the grade-level standards, and related standards from the students’ IEPs, in the plans), but I don’t mind that. One thing that is handy about this digital planbook is that I can pull it up from any device (including my phone), and that I can move lessons forward if something happens and I don’t get to something on a given day.
In the past, I included the instructional sequence for lessons in PlanBook Plus, but, this year, I think I’ll just put the “big” items (lesson title, textbook reference, standards), and leave the details for my written, daily planbook, since these might change.
Have to Try: As a special ed teacher in a self-contained classroom, in an alternative setting, I collect a lot of data, for a lot of classes, in addition to progress monitoring data. I have asked my principal to purchase a subscription to the Daily Cafe with CC Pensieve, which is a web-based data collection tool that can be used for conference notes, reading assessment data, science quizzes, and just about any information that I might collect. Because all the data is in one place, it is easy to print out a report in real-time for a PPT or a conference. It also helps me plan a workshop, or “cafe,” model for literacy and numeracy instruction, something which I experimented with at the end of last year and which the students liked, as they felt they were busier and got more individualized attention.
Technology Tools in Your Classroom
What are your go-to tech tools, apps and websites? Share the “best of the best” below, in the comments section!
I wanted to let you know about a sale starting today! I’m taking 5% off my summer-themed e-books and notebooking pages in celebration of the 4th of July. See below for a sneak peak at some popular products.
Looking for summer nature study resources?
Nests, Nests, Nests!includes primary and regular ruled science journaling pages focusing on animal nests. Includes organizers for studying and comparing nests of different animal orders, coloring and copywork pages, and game cards for sorting and classification tasks. Suitable for classroom or homeschool, direct instruction or learning centers work. A variety of framed pages included for thematic writing assignments. This zoology item also includes suggested lesson uses, linked resources and much more. 25 pages. On sale for $1.85!
Other Summer-Themed Products:
Other Summer Products:
What about Ten Days of Wildflowers?This 24-page journaling e-Book focuses on making and recording observations of wildflowers seen on summer and autumn nature walks. On sale now, $1.85!