📸 Courtesy of Gennifer Meldrum
REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING GARDEN EDUCATION DURING A PANDEMIC
By Sharlene Singh
(SPEC School Gardens Program Coordinator)
As another school year comes to a close, I'm taking a moment to reflect on the last 10 months which was a year unlike any other. It offered many interesting challenges and opportunities to engage students in an outdoor setting especially during an ever evolving pandemic.
Our School Gardens Program has been operating in schools for over 13 years, however this year saw an increased interest and inquiry into our program.
We facilitated garden-based education with five schools which took a lot of thoughtful planning and execution, and made us re-evaluate how and why we teach.
I've shared some of the key highlights I've witnessed and experienced.
- In the past, time outdoors was spent primarily for play at recess, lunch and physical education. Now, students are slowly adapting to spending an increasing amount of time outdoors taking their art, science and other classes to this new space.
- Students are noticing their natural surroundings with greater detail; flowers in bloom, bees or insects and wildlife, building their curiosity for the natural environment.
- More teachers and schools are interested in using the outdoor space as a classroom.
- Students' expressed fears of being near spiders, slugs, wasps and bees has dissipated through observation and spending time in the garden.
- Being inspired by observing students find the joy in planting a seed and watching it grow and trying to grow something they haven't ever eaten before like potatoes, herbs or edible flowers.
While our students gained so much, there were many lessons I learned from teaching this school year:
- You can't do it all, ask for help from others.
- Sometimes a lesson will take a whole different direction from what you had planned, and that is alright. Stop to talk about the crows and ravens, observe nature, watch the worms, listen to and enjoy the hummingbirds, when it's hot, have a mist party under the hose, and let your students express their fears, joys and learnings to you through sharing.
I would like to to thank our schools, teachers, students and administrators for supporting our food literacy and environmental education work this year. To our wonderful group of volunteers who were flexible, adaptable, engaging, kind and patient leading group activities in the garden - you are appreciated by myself and the students for all the care and time spent answering questions.
Who knows how the next school year will take shape, however I do see an increased desire from educators to connect to this type of education more strongly and the tangible benefits it brought to both our students and teachers this school year.
Students are empathetic and care about their natural environment and want to understand how they can help be makers of change; truly that's the blessing as a teacher to impart a little bit of knowledge like a seed, to water and tend to it, and see it grow, given the right nurturing for it to flourish in its own environment.