Good classroom management in the garden makes a big difference

Set your class up for success in the garden by following these tips.

Photo by Michigan State University Extension
Photo by Michigan State University Extension

For students, teachers and parents alike, it’s hard to believe that the beginning of the school year is upon us. The good news is that the first month (and sometimes longer) of the school year is prime school garden time. If your school garden benefitted from summer care and tending, there are likely many fall season crops ready for harvest, just in time for students returning to school to experience and enjoy. If you didn’t have a care plan in place for the summer, or it didn’t go according to plan, most locations in Michigan have enough time to seed and harvest some quick maturing fall crops such as radishes, spinach, lettuces and peas.

An important aspect of incorporating the garden into your school day and curriculum is classroom management. As a teacher, parent, or volunteer, having a plan for how to manage time spent with students in the garden can be the difference between a fruitful educational experience and a hectic ride, attempting to find some semblance of order.

Whether your students are just experiencing their first garden activities or are seasoned garden participants, it is important to revisit acceptable behavior in the garden as you plan and discuss your first outside lessons.

These tips from Life Lab’s Gardens for Learning curriculum can help set up good guidelines and rules for time spent in the garden classroom:

  • Establish garden rules prior to spending time in the garden. It can help to also have the rules posted in the garden, and phrase them positively. Some examples are:
    • Stay on the pathways
    • Ask before you pick
    • Give your neighbor some room
  • Have a tool training before going into the garden. Share the tools that you’ll be using, their purpose, and a short demonstration of how to safely use them. Emphasize keeping tools below your waist, and not running with tools in hand. Some teachers have found it helpful to demonstrate using the tools in front of their students and asking for feedback (showing some unsafe behaviors as well).
  • Find some help. At least one other adult volunteer is a must. Student parents and/or Master Gardener volunteers from your local Michigan State University Extension office can often provide assistance. This would allow one of you to leave if there is an emergency and have the rest of the class remain supervised. More hands are better, especially if you plan to have smaller group hands-on activities, which is what makes the garden such an effective teaching tool.
  • Try out smaller group activities to maximize hands-on activities and learning. Providing clipboards for students can make garden activities such as data collection more manageable as well.
  • Create a designated seated space. Especially when the class will be outside for a longer period of time, it is helpful to have a comfortable area where everyone can gather, listen and learn without being crowded and not being able to see or hear clearly.

Experienced garden teachers and leaders will have tips and tricks of their own – be sure to ask others who have been leading activities in the garden to share their wisdom. Sometimes a small tip can turn into a big difference in improving the learning environment in the garden. 

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