In this Tundra-like state we are living in, nothing says spring like verdant, lush grass! When we set up our erosion experiment a few weeks ago, we planted a container of thickly sewn grass seed. I noticed that many students found the experience very relaxing and enticing to simply stroke the grass as they listened to whatever lesson I was giving that particular day. This observation prompted me, one snowy day about two weeks ago, to break out a few unused window boxes. Since our day students were not coming in due to district snow closures, one of my classes only had two kids, both Green Chimneys residents.
They set to work filling the window boxes with potting soil, sowing in the grass seed and sprinkling on some water. We covered the window boxes with some plastic I keep on hand to keep consistent moisture for new plantings. There was more snow in the forecast, so it was possible that there would be a day that the greenhouse would be unoccupied and the seedlings thirsty for water. This is also a handy trick for weekends when new experiments are just taking root and they have to go two days without care.
Within days, we had action. What is it about sprouting seeds? Is it just me or do you find excitement in unfolding plant life captivating, too? (Sometimes I tell my students I’m part plant in order to try and convey the depth of my interest in all things horticulture, but I guess it is possible that not everyone views germination with the same amount of reverence that I do.) Over the next week or so a thick mat of rye grass began to emerge, catching the eye of most students (and staff members) as they passed in or out of the greenhouse. That’s when I realized, we had to do something with this grass.
I thought about the possibility of using the inspiration of the grass to write a haiku. I’ve been reading some beautiful ones on the Healing Garden gardener’s blog which is probably why this particular form of poetry came to mind as a way to incorporate the growing, glowing grass into an assignment.
On each table I placed one of the window boxes of grass. When the students sat down, I didn’t discourage them from touching it and conversations quickly started as hands began to work their way through the dense blades. I did this project with three classes; with the younger kids, I simply made a list on the white board of the descriptive words they came up with when they touched, smelled, felt and looked at the grass. (This was also a good review of just what an adjective actually is, as well as a way to build vocabulary). With a middle school group, I had them write a list of adjectives inspired by the grass on their own piece of paper, and then write a brief description of an experience they were reminded of by the greenery. Some of the students shared what they had written. With a high school class, we went over how a haiku is traditionally written. They listed their adjectives, wrote about an impression or memory associated with grass, and then took it a step farther by using their adjectives and experiences to write haiku. Boy, was I surprised by that high school class.
Sometimes I am apprehensive about how far I can push the “classroom” activity envelope. I know our students have demanding courseloads, not to mention the challenges of emotional and/or behavioral issues, and in some cases, learning disabilities. In a sense, their program time, whether it be art, gardening, music, woodshop (or a host of other amazing special classes), has to offer not only some kind of release from the more structured, traditional classroom setting, but also has to function as a place where the student is able to find success without excessive frustration, because they are doing. Even though classroom teachers are differentiating instruction so that all students can learn, somehow programs like gardening offer the ability of leveling the field of obstacles. One student may not be reading close to his grade level, but he can describe exactly how a compost pile works as he tends to it. Another student might be unable to process multi-stepped procedures or digest long explanations of lessons, but she can propagate and care for a plant, and recall how to do it. It’s magical, yet common sense.
Anyway, this class didn’t bat an eye when we ended up writing poetry in gardening class, I might even be so bold as to say they enjoyed it. I hope you enjoy some examples of their work here.