So, I have to admit, there is one class on my schedule that causes me a bit of angst as their allotted time approaches each week. You would probably laugh if I had a class picture to insert here so you could see their small, 7- and 8-year old beautifully smiling faces. I love each one of these kids individually; when you can give them all the attention in the world they are the sweetest collection of little boys that you will ever meet. They are full of curiosity and wonder, young minds just waiting to take in whatever you have to offer them.
However, when together as a class, I never seem to have enough arms or attention to dole out to keep all these students content, focused and on-task. I have been struggling since September, as their roster fluctuated, so did my approach with the class. How can I find the right balance of engaging their active minds while keeping the eager hands busy in a positive way? How can I create experiences that can incorporate right and left brain functions, allowing the students to perform at their optimum level?
These are questions I cannot always answer, but when I strike upon an activity that allows answers to emerge, then I am walking on clouds.
We have a pile of compost outside the garden that has been sitting there for about a year and a half. Earlier this week, bigger students used shovels and wheelbarrows to haul out as much compost as time would allow. We sifted out the organic matter that still needed more time to decompose, and added the finished “black gold” back into the garden. When it came time for my smaller, younger students, I decided to give everyone a trowel and an 8″ plastic pot. Each student was asked to fill their pot with dirt from the pile, bring it into the garden, place it on the sifter and sift. Rocks and sticks get put in a container that is emptied into the woods and roots, leaves and stems are thrown into a compost pile that is almost done.
Why this approach for my younger class?
- Shovels are too big for most.
- Wheelbarrows are too heavy when full of dirt.
- The pile was somewhat compacted from the older students’ work earlier in the week, so what better way to break it up then a bunch of boys who love to dig holes?
- Short attention spans were sated by the quick turn of tasks.
- Posting staff at various points kept everyone knowing exactly where to go and what to do. (Mrs. Schuster and I are lucky to have a wonderful volunteer, Ann and a great intern, Sarah with us, as well as the class’s teaching assistant and a one-to-one paraprofessional.)
- While students focused on their task they could absorb the reasons for why they were doing what they were doing; learning a skill that has great ecological importance and is a best sustainable practice.
- They were able to work independently successfully. They were also able to work well together when taking turns at the sifter and respecting personal space while digging in the pile.
I knew I nailed it when I heard one of the kids excitedly exclaim, “This is so much fun!” While the students were having fun, I was actually breathing calmly and able to observe these busy bees totally focused. My ultimate goal is always finding the right combination of tasks that allow a class to function as a finely tuned, learning machine. Each part has it’s own specific job, and together they produce a desired outcome.