Summer is waning and Long Beach students are back in the classrooms. On September 13th, our garden teaching year officially begins. It's been a busy Summer for Ground Education. We've added two new Educators to our ranks as well as our first Garden Maintenance Coordinator. This new Dream Team will help us reach 5,000 students this year, bringing dynamic outdoor lessons to 12 thriving gardens. We can't wait to begin!
In many ways, the learning garden is unique in that it lends itself to opportunities for students to perform meaningful work. While the definition of “meaningful work” can be debated, we employ the term as it refers to purposeful jobs or tasks that students truly care about, become wholly invested in, and which have tangible outcomes that positively impact our students and/or community.
Students perform meaningful work in the learning garden when they plant seeds or seedlings, care for them over time, and finally, harvest their crops. Meaningful work includes maintenance tasks such as watering, cleaning, bug removal, thinning, and weeding. These activities provide a time when students can foster social and physical growth as well as the personal qualities of a dedicated learner. Through the processes of meaningful work, students are allowed time to try, make errors, and work to fix those mistakes independently or collaboratively with peers. Students glean life skills and strengthen character traits such as responsibility, caring, and respect for the shared gardens as well as the contributions of others.
A school learning garden is a shared resource on campus, and cultivating it as a team within and across grade levels actively promotes a sense of unity, school pride, and identity campus-wide. Ground Education’s lessons are designed to promote respect and care for our garden as well as each other and the greater community. For example, after planting, tending, and harvesting their raised bed gardens, third graders donate their produce to a local charity. In this way, children experience the cycle of meaningful work and charitable giving, thus sowing the seeds of generosity.
Our garden programs also offer students’ loved ones a dynamic and accessible way to participate in school life. Families of students are encouraged to assist with learning garden lessons, maintenance activities, and periodic work parties. In addition, children take home knowledge and know-how that will empower families to make informed choices about their health at home. By sending home seeds, recipes, vegetables, homemade pots, and other materials, parents will have the opportunity to connect with learning garden activities and encourage their children to continue to explore and appreciate the natural world at home.
Yesterday 80 volunteers showed up with tools and smiles in the pouring rain at Los Cerritos Elementary for their annual garden work party. Kids and parents dug, weeded, pruned, lugged and laughed together for more than two hours. This is a testament to the school's garden committee - a tireless group of parents who make sure the ambitious 22 bed garden receives the TLC it needs to be ready for more than 500 students to explore, nurture and create. Efforts like these are an inspiring testament of the power and importance of outdoor learning. Thank you Los Cerritos for your vision and partnership.
Children in classrooms throughout Long Beach and the nation are being encouraged to develop a growth mindset. At Ground Education, we believe that the learning garden experience is perfectly analogous to the development of a growth mindset.
Janet Kilburn-Philips wrote, “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.” Indeed, the act of growing a garden requires hope and optimism in the potential of a seed, perseverance in the care and growth of young plants, and understanding that sometimes, along the way, things do not go exactly as planned in the natural world. Our curriculum and lessons are designed to promote learning through continued effort and to repurpose failure as a heartening springboard for stretching our abilities.
We believe that children make sense of the world by interacting with it and that gardens have the unique capacity to engage the mental and physical strengths of each and every child. In an outdoor classroom, individuals’ strengths can emerge which, otherwise, may not have been witnessed. For students who are dominantly kinesthetic learners, garden-based lessons can be both motivating and calming.
Oftentimes, students who may struggle in a typical academic classroom shine in environmental education settings. Many teachers have observed that the “behavior problems” can melt away during garden-based learning as children are so actively engaged in their meaningful work. Students who are immigrants may possess a culturally stronger connection to growing and cooking food, and as a result, may experience the opportunity to be leaders. Ground Education’s curriculum is designed with all learners in mind, including general and special education students, language learners, and children with special needs. Shared participation in a school’s learning garden allows opportunities for all students to propagate feelings of success.
As the second semester starts, we are excited to have logged more than 10,000 student hours in our school gardens this year - time spent exploring, wondering, planting, cooking, tending, experimenting and connecting. We'd like to extend a huge thank you to our sponsors and partner schools for embracing the power of nature to educate and inspire. We look forward to a fun and bountiful Spring.
As we continue to expand, we discover schools all over Long Beach that have beautiful garden spaces - blank slates ready for students to think, explore, and connect to the natural world as part of their school day. This year we've added Hudson to our program, and we started with a series of apple explorations to generate excitement for the harvests to come.
Thanks to the help of some social media volunteers, we have launched our Facebook site. Find us at www.facebook.com/GroundEducationLB/
At Ground Education, one of our core beliefs is that planting a seed alongside a student is a powerful act that presents almost limitless possibilities to think, explore and experience. That potential makes a thriving school garden a perfect canvas for integrating ideas about how the world works and our important role in nature. Where the seed planting leads is exciting every time. Here are some places we go...