Before we got the kids out there planting, and somewhere between putting in new beds and irrigation, an opportunity came up to go to a two day workshop at ASU on school gardening. I put my name in the hat on a whim, thinking I probably wouldn’t be picked to attend, but low and behold, I got the email just before spring break and committed myself to going.
I had a moment of, “What was I thinking?” The training was over spring break when I was so looking forward to lazy days and sleeping in, but I am so glad that I got myself out to attend. Learned so much, got to meet many amazing teachers starting their own school gardens, and had fun.
One of the first things that hit me hard during the training was that even after all these endless Saturdays, we had only made it to level two, maybe an early level three of integration.
Levels of Integration
Oh my goodness! How could this be? So much for celebrating. We had work to do!
In order to get to level three, we had to get more students in the garden digging, learning, and growing and in order for this to happen, we needed teacher buy-in and a workable model to successfully get our students out there on a regular basis.
We decided to start with a teacher training. We wanted to let our teachers know what we had been up to, how they could be involved, and most importantly share reasons why we should our students needing to be in the garden.
Questions we hoped to answer:
Why is a school garden so important anyway? Why had we even bothered? And who has time for it when there is state testing in reading and writing and arithmetic? We also hoped to get teachers thinking about ways they could start integrating gardening curriculum and experiences into their school day.
I was excited and super nervous and so, of course, created a fourteen page powerpoint full of images and popups, jokes and knowledge. I asked for twenty minutes during our next staff meeting and was given ten. I was also given a firm warning from some of my dearest teammates to keep it brief, so they could get out of there as quickly as possible. So there was that. Big sigh and ready, set, go.
Oh and also, the day before, my principal gave me the heads up that he and the VP were going to illustrate the dress code and how distracting inappropriate clothes could be by parading through the presentation at some point in some very short shorts. So, yes, that also happened.
Below are two of the main highlights that we tried to share.
Why garden with kids?
- School gardens beautify the campus and create a unique draw for attracting and retaining students.
- There are intrinsic benefits to student health and happiness; including healthier eating habits, moderate and engaging exercise, improved confidence, exposure to S.T.E.M. and analytic thinking, as well as being a stress reliever and improving focus and memory.
- Experience with gardens impacts student and staff attitudes towards sustainability and use of resources.
- Educational outcomes can be improved, especially when curriculum is highly aligned to gardening activities.
- Gardening can further emotional development with mindful practices that teach self-regulation, reflection, and empathy.
Levels of Complexity
- Sprouting seeds in the classroom
- Container gardening
- Gardening in the ground
- Tasting and/or meal planning with the cafe
- Selling produce
- Composting and/or recycling program
- Caring for live animals
The Levels of Complexity was an important ah-ha moment for me. I realized that gardening in the ground was turning out to be such a big project for us, because yes, it was a big project for us to take on. I also realized that each level of complexity could be simplified in some way to make it more manageable. So I adapted the Levels of Complexity to look like this for a future parent training.
For instance, instead of meal planning with the cafe (totally cool, but totally not happening), we implemented garden tasting. The children working in the garden literally got to sample and taste during every visit to the garden. This prevented food going to waste on the vine, while giving our students the opportunity to taste a wide variety of fresh veggies and fruits as they worked in the garden. It also relieved us of the pressure of trying to produce a big enough harvest to plan meals with the cafe. Some schools bring in chefs to prepare something using ingredients from the garden. This would be awesome if you have a parent willing to donate their time or know a local chef that would want to come to your school.
Another way we simplified, instead of trying to implement a school wide composting program, I picked up this little composter from Amazon. In this way, I could teach my students the basics about composting and how the recycling of nutrients worked without getting overwhelmed, worrying about who was going to turn the compost and keep it damp, and how we would sort food from the cafe.
We kept one of the composting bins in the garden though, so that we could have a place to throw dead plants and weeds as we maintained the beds. We also hope to do more with composting in the future, so it is nice to have.
Now, my dream would be to have chickens and worm farms and maybe even a few goats, but we’re not there… yet. This worm composter is pretty cool, but I hesitate to try it because our climate here in Arizona is so hot that it would be difficult to keep our worms alive and well. We do study worms as part of our science curriculum for a week or two in class, so I figure that is enough exposure for now.
One thing I was ready to introduce was chickens. We have chickens at home and hatching eggs is part of our kindergarten curriculum, so I was ready to jump all in!
More on working with live animals at school in another post. Next I’ll post more on getting the kids planting, how we solved the problem of wood chips, and what steps we took to increase our levels of integration throughout the school. We’ll also return to the topic of complexity and integration as well as the benefits of gardening throughout future posts.
Click on the image below to go back to last week’s post on Growing a School Garden.