The garden is an outdoor classroom space where students come alive in new ways. Many students don’t thrive in a classroom setting where they must sit still, listen, and do exactly what they are told. Rather, many students thrive in an experiential learning environment where they learn with hands-on activities.
The changing of seasons from winter to spring is an exciting time to utilize the outdoor garden classroom where students learn and explore in new ways. As a FoodCorps member at PS 443 in the South Bronx, I have the opportunity to see kids light up when we take classes outside to the garden. Students learn how to nurture all their garden friends from pill bugs to worms to soil to our little plant seedlings. Many students that I witness struggling in the indoor classroom have a positive shift in behavior in the garden space.
M came alive in the garden space. He arrived in the United States only a couple months ago. He speaks an African dialect that no one else can speak in the school, therefore, he is not able to speak in his 4th grade class with his teacher or classmates. From the very first day, the classroom teacher and I took the class to the garden, this little boy came alive. He immediately dug his hands in the dirt and knew exactly how to plant the carrot seed without needing to comprehend the instructions. Since that first garden experience, he is now able to comprehend and speak a little English. Last week I was able to have a conversation with M about what he planted in Africa. With a smile from ear to ear, he named many fruits and vegetables: spinach, bananas, mangos, carrots, oranges, tomatoes. That day I realized that communication in the garden classroom uses a language of experience and culture: learning the responsibility that comes from nurturing and caring for living things.
Another student, one of my 2nd graders comes alive in the garden space. As I was giving the instructions for the day, this little girl could not stop talking and asking questions about the garden and the sugar snap pea seeds we were planting. “What’s inside the seed? When will there be snap peas?” The teacher looked at me in awe and said “this is so great! I cannot get her to speak in the classroom!” Just like the new seeds they are planting, kids come alive in new ways in the garden space!