Have you ever seen pictures of the old time bucket brigades? Evidence from as early as the 1st century B.C. shows how some of the earliest organized fire fighters would form a human chain, passing buckets of water from a water source to a blaze. Teamwork and timing were imperative to successfully beat the spread of flames.
We often employ a similar type of action when tackling mufti-faceted jobs in the garden. When working with a group of 12 students, it’s better to break our (often several stepped tasks) down into more easily completed singular actions. This is especially helpful with students who have difficulty with task sequencing. Instead of keeping a fire in check, we are keeping frustration at a manageable level so that skill-building and learning can shine.
Take pot washing; it seems like a simple task but it’s actually pretty involved, especially when you are washing scores of pots. It’s amazing to see how many pots we use in a season. In March, when we start seeding, the pot hutch looks like a treasure trove, full of more pots than any one group could use. But by June, after we’ve seeded hundreds of plants, the hutch is pretty much empty! (And while we try to keep up with our pot-cleaning duties throughout the summer, there always seems to be a backlog of containers waiting to be cleaned and stored for the winter months.)
This past week we had a very successful pot-washing session with Mr. Grogan’s 3rd grade class. We broke it down with 2 children assigned to each task:
- separating the pots that were stacked together and passed them on to the washers
- washing small pots with soapy water and some sponges and passed them to the rinsers
- scrubbing larger trays with big brushes and passed them to the rinsers
- rinsing the soapy pots in clean water and passed them to the stackers
- transporting washed pots into our smaller greenhouse and lined the shelves of several units with the clean containers
- replacing water when necessary, keeping water levels high and rinsing water clean
The process wasn’t actually as linear as the steps above seem. Some students lost interest with their station, so at intervals the desire to switch tasks was accommodated. Some students weren’t keeping up with the assembly line, so children that had a lull in their duty (like waiting for clean pots to stack) stepped in to help their classmates complete their job.
Projects like washing pots may seem mundane and you may be asking yourself where the educational value is. Actually, it’s this type of class that teaches students to work as part of a team. Some of our children have a really hard time connecting with others, and this opportunity invites them to work alongside classmates, simply being a part of a group. For other students, they can use an experience like this to work on communication skills with their peers. Over time, we can build on these increments of growth.
Another benefit of this process highlights how many of our student’s have great compassion for their classmates. Kids noticed when their peers were struggling with keeping up or continuing to stay focused and offered to lend a hand. Good citizens are being built doing simple chores. Self esteem and a good work ethic are fostered as children see the tangible contribution they have made to keeping our materials in good shape and successfully completing duties set before them.
And our timing seemed to be just right; upon dismissal one teaching assistant noted, “It’s been a rough afternoon, this is just what they needed!” Turns out, washing pots outside in the sunshine also answers the children’s need for movement, which is often followed by an increased feeling of relaxation!