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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.

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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…

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Gardening helps kids learn how to regulate their behavior, make decisions based on evidence, and work collaboratively. {Image Credit: (c) 2020, Kim M. Bennett
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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…

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Getting Outside with Children

The Benefits of Outdoor Time

It seems like I never quite get my garden in when other folks do. By the time the school year wraps up, it’s almost the 4th of July. I recently spent a rainy day planning a small kitchen garden that I’m going to install this weekend…

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A small garden can afford time to refresh oneself outside… and provides learning opportunities for children, too. {Image credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2019}

When I get outside, even to sweep the sidewalk, pull a few weeds, or just sit and drink my coffee on the patio, I feel peaceful. My mind and heart empty of all the stresses of the day, and I can hear God talking.

Nature Study and Outdoor Learning

The outdoors is an excellent classroom, not only for “summer school,” but for any time of year. Don’t worry about structuring the time – 15 minutes a day, with an opportunity to talk, write or draw about the time, is all that is needed to spark creativity and connect a child to the world. Of course, once they’re hooked, they will want to be outside for hours (see this post about Charlotte Mason’s view on children and the outdoors).

See my Nature Study and Outdoor Classrooms board for some ideas on how to use your outdoor space as a peaceful learning place.

Summer Outdoor Learning

Whether you’re homeschooling all year, looking for enrichment for kiddos home from a brick-and-mortar school, or just wanting some fun things to do with your children during the summer, check out some of our favorite summer nature activities:

  1. The Mathematics of Nature: Fractals
  2. Beaches, Beaches, Everywhere!
  3. Summer Bird Study: Blue Jays
  4. Nature Study Notebooks and Literacy
  5. A Little Fun with our Feathered Friends
  6. The Nightshade Family (and a Little Surprise)

What are you doing with your kids this summer? Let me know in the comments section! Share a link…


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