One of the most important parts of my work is the informal garden time, outside of planned lessons, when students gravitate toward the garden to find activity, entertainment, or sanctuary. Whenever I’m present at the garden during recess, lunch break, or after school, students both new and familiar come and ask to do garden tasks, use magnifiers to check out garden creatures, or simply sit and observe or talk. For many of my students, this is the space in which they learn the best – free from the constraints of lessons designed to fit mandated curriculum, they can learn organically, asking questions or making observations as their curiosity carries them. For me, it is a welcome release from the routine of trying to explain directions or instructions to an audience that often (and understandably) lacks the patience for this. It is also a time when I get to know my students, when they talk about their day and what’s been going on. I often learn valuable things from these talks – that, for instance, a student may be facing certain hardships or having a bad day, and that this (rather than ‘disobedience’) might be the cause of their inattention during lessons.
Here is a photo from last week’s work, when two students joined to help in planting tomato starts after school. I sent them both home with mint starts I pulled up from the garden to thank them for their help. One of these students is often ‘difficult’ when I’m trying to give lesson instructions and it was nice to see how well he works and how many questions he asks when he’s just given tools and free reign.
The garden-as-sanctuary is probably one of the most powerful experiences. On several occasions students have come to sit or work in the garden because they are going through something tough, and the garden is, to them, a natural place to heal or take one’s mind off of things through healthy, life-giving work. Students will find sanctuary in the garden when they are having a dispute with a friend, feel that they’ve been treated unjustly by teachers or other authorities, are going through tough times at home, have experienced loss, or when they’re just feeling melancholy. I love to see the smiles that reappear after a few minutes of watering plants, sowing seeds or just watching things grow.
Do your students find the garden outside of lessons? What compels them? What do they find there?