My ultimate goal for students in our gardening program is this: autonomy. We have spent a lot of time over the past school year learning and practicing our horticultural skills, and in most cases, we are at point where I can hand out assignments and realistically expect them to be accomplished with minimal adult help.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be stressful creating (or working toward) a scenario that allows students to work independently. For one thing, children are so excited to get started, it can feel like there are 100 voices clamoring for attention, “Can I do this? Can we work together on that?” And, let’s face it, I don’t always pick the right child for the right task. Often, adaptations must be made, whether it be adjusting the tools or who is working together. Having multiple jobs occurring throughout the garden can feel or look chaotic. But once everyone is at work there is a palpable feeling of joy, of ownership. Whether working alone, with a partner or in a small group students gain real-world skills as they build their character. What child doesn’t yearn for independence? This is how self-esteem is built.
It takes a while to understand the varied strengths and interests of the students here, which is an on-going challenge as new students arrive throughout our school year. But little by little, as my students learn their botany-based lessons, conduct their experiments and practice their new skills, confidence and know-how are built. As the students learn, I learn alongside them who is capable of what, when. And when the pieces begin to fall into place as they have, there is a real feeling of pride and accomplishment amongst us all.
So, as we begin to wrap up our spring term, I am encountering more and more moments where I can take a step back and simply watch my gardeners garden. In the front of the garden there is a student mulching some newly planted flowers children started from seed. Over by the compost system, three students are busy sifting compost to add fresh soil to one of the beds. In the gazebo, two boys are tying up herbs that they just harvested for drying. A group of students are planting tomatoes and basil with the assistance of a volunteer. Another child has gone with a staff member to collect wood chips for our walkways. It’s just another day in our garden, where our students grow as much, if not more, than our plants.