With the lack of four walls to provide the container for the class, the need for a different form of structure becomes even more important. Book ending every class, no matter the age level or size, with a simple and consistent beginning and ending ritual helps students transition and know what to expect as they enter garden class.
Ideas for beginnings: (all of these activities are intended to be done with students at the entrance to the garden, prior to entering)
Singing bowl: have children close their eyes and focus their attention on the sound of the singing bowl (or bell) and raise their hand and open their eyes when they no longer hear the sound.
Mindful breathing: have children walk into garden silently, breathing normally but counting their breaths as they walk in.
Mindful listening: children count bird calls/ambient sounds as they walk silently into garden
Recited poem / verse: find a short and simple poem of your choosing and learn/recite this poem before entering the garden each time
Silent entry: Meeting at entrance to the garden, lining up and entering in silence
Ideas for endings:
Circle up and have each group report back what they worked on and how effectively they feel they worked as a team.
Any of the above rituals can simply be applied to closing the class and exiting the garden.
have Small group rotations
There are few garden activities that when done in large groups, end up being successful. Split your class into groups of no more than 8 students, 4-6 being ideal. Assign each group a task that is within your line of sight and have groups rotate every 10-12 minutes. If a parent helper, teaching assistant or middle school student is not present, assign a leadership role to one or two students who, if the task gets out of hand, will come ask for your help. Ensure each group is clear on their task by having them repeat your instructions back to you before they split and begin.
Every garden coordinator who has helpers in their program whether they be aids, parents, or both, knows that they truly are keystones to the efficiency and success of garden classes. Talk to your principal about having the help of a teaching assistant or aid and/or recruit parents in the beginning of the school year at the ‘Back To School Night’. Give each teacher a sign up sheet and have them encourage parents to sign up to volunteer in the garden.
Tip: If neither parents nor teaching assistants are available, consider recruiting older students to assist and lead groups in exchange for community service hours. Also, it can be extremely helpful to hold a ‘Garden Orientation’ at the beginning of every school year for parents and teaching assistants.