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.
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.
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…
Right now, my desk is littered with planning materials for summer school and the fall, a pile of mail to sort (most of it junk), bills to pay, to-do lists, my partially completed journal for the day, a coffee cup that wants more coffee, and several cans with markers and colored pencils for my Bible journaling that never seems to get done…
It is easy to become overwhelmed with the busy-ness of life. Sometimes, the brain can be so full of things to do, worries and anxieties, appointments, and past conversations that there is no quiet, not even on the inside. The availability of information on a myriad of electronic devices only makes this worse.
Our kids feel the same pressure. And, in a paradox that hurts the hearts of people in my generation, they eschew the very things that ease the heart of a small child: sunshine, unstructured play, face-to-face time with friends, family outings.
It is not surprising that, in all that busy-ness, people of all ages become bitter and negative about things. We miss the good things that we have, because we are so focused on what we need to do and what we don’t have.
Fortunately, it is never too late to teach ourselves and our kids how to be grateful. Building gratitude starts with small steps, just like learning to read. These small steps cause us to pause in a hectic life, and consider the goodness that we already have. By simply changing the way we think about events, we can learn to be content in all things, as the Apostle Paul taught us.
Ten Ways to Practice Gratitude
Learning to be grateful is a process. Here are ten simple things anyone can do to begin a lifetime practice of gratitude.
Say “thank you,” and say it often. Saying “thank you” isn’t just good manners. It lets the other person know that you appreciate him and what he’s done for you. My husband and children always says thank you to me after a meal, and we always say thank you to my husband when he cooks – we give thanks to God, and then honor the cook! Thank the postal carrier, thank the cashier at Stop and Shop… just say, “Thank you!”
Recognize “stinking thinking” – and eliminate it. I once worked with an excellent teacher at a correctional facility.She had a poster in the front of the room entitled, “Accountable Speech.” On one side, she wrote negative self-statements her students made: “I’m so stupid” – “We’ll never get jobs” – “I can’t do that” – “That’s just how it is.” Next to each statement, she re-wrote it with a positive mindset: “I don’t understand that – can you explain it to me?” – “I need help finding a good job” – “I can’t do that YET” – “That’s how it was – but things can change.” Re-think the words you speak over yourself. Build yourself up with your own words.
Share 3 good things that happen to you each day. When my kids were little, it was like pulling teeth to find out how their days were. So, during our afterschool snack, I asked them to tell me three good things and one not-so-good thing. This helped them focus on the good (even if it was “Jacob’s mom brought in cupcakes for his birthday”) and still honors thThee bumps in the road – in a balanced way. Try it with your kids.
Make a “100 list.” I had a class once that included quite a few teens with depression and anxiety. I started this task when one of them was going through a rough patch. They grew to like it so much that they asked to be able to do it on days that weren’t going so well for the class – instead of the scheduled task. Simply start a list of things that you are thankful for. The idea is that the first 25 are rather concrete and often materialistic (new jewelry, a vacation, payday…). As you get to 75 and above, however, you get to the real things to be thankful for: still being alive, being clean and sober, being reunited with family…
Start a gratitude journal. It can be devoting one day a week (maybe Sunday) to a gratitude entry in the journal or planner you already use. Or you can challenge yourself, for 30 days, to write down one thing you’re grateful for, each day. Just write it down!
Think of the upside of things. My pastor used to say, “Don’t complain about the light bill. Thank God you have electricity. Some don’t.” For almost any trouble you have, you can take the “glass half full” viewpoint. When you catch yourself (or your kids) looking at a half-empty glass, rephrase the statement.
Give up something you love for a week. A friend of mine used to have her kids each pick out 2-3 toys to keep in their rooms. The rest would be lovingly packed and put in the attic. Every month or so, they’d “shop” in the attic, swapping out their toys for ones they stored. They grew to better appreciate the ones they kept in their rooms, as well as the ones in storage. Try doing without something for a time – you’ll be more grateful for it when you return to it!
Start and end your day with gratitude. My journal has space for me to write down 3 things that I am grateful for upon awaking, and 3 things I am grateful for before retiring for the evening. I made a word cloud of June’s entries – the bigger the word, the more times I mentioned it. This was a good reminder for me about what really matters.
Read one prayer of thanksgiving from the Bible, each day. King David wrote many songs of thanksgiving in the book of Psalms. If you’re not sure what a prayer of thanksgiving is, All About Prayer has a good article to read.
Find Peace in Gratitude
As a parting thought, I want to share with you a gospel song that gets me in the tear ducts and heart every time I sing it. Blessings to you, and God bless your journey toward a life of gratitude.