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Schools Are Gardens For The Heart

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Spring is a time for rebirth and new beginnings. As we pull the weeds of winter, we reflect on our learning successes, assess, plan and hope for the next year. Gardens are a grand way to teach children sequence of life, planting, tending and watching that garden grow, just like learning. Tending the garden of the heart.

Teaching is cyclic and routines offer us continuity. We share our rituals and routines with the children in our care, offering much needed stability and a gentle kind of love and nurturing wherever it's needed. And that's pretty much everywhere, one child at a time, for various reasons.

I love class or morning meetings, circles or whatever name you use. The time is well spent. Even five minutes sets the tone for the day, with a quick review of prior learning (especially helpful to an absentee) and transition to the next activity. This is time worth spending. More than time on task, definitely engaged. Engaged in emotional safety and sense of class belonging and visibility. Tending the garden of the heart.

Lately I've seen some really cool school gardens. When I was Principal, a garden was already at the school, a good beginning. We added a wildlife compound and accomplished many project based learning activities, at the time not putting a name to it.

Like favorite book "The Carrot Seed", plant some seeds. I guarantee when you properly tend those seeds, they do come up. Eventually. Time is a big factor. Some students just take more time to learn things. Many times I experienced a teacher doing every imaginable strategy and no numeric results. Then voila! That proverbial light bulb flashes in neon, maybe even the next year or so.

I believe in the work of Dunn and Dunn, Carbo and Armstrong. I think children all show their gifts in one way or another, when given the opportunity. So having the vast toolbox now readily available, with great PD tossed into the mix, power on, capes on.

Today's curricular garden is vast, with a lot of expertise out there. I like the idea of blended learning, with carrots and peas planted, probably some string beans, too. Inquiry anything, as I've said previously, adds kale and spinach.

Being in nature, doing the math and spatial concepts needed to get those poles strung just right, figuring out how much and when to water, fertilize with TLC. Learning to be patient. Can't beat that natural kind of learning. Cross-curricular, internet search and hands-on, minds-on projects are in alignment with scientific method. And, providing opportunity for students and teachers to pose questions to each other, back to Bloom's Taxonomy. What a combo.

Moreover, the tactile-kinesthetic, spatial elements being satisfied and basic Maslow, gardens are the maximum teaching opportunity.

Adding in writing, poetry, art and music about the gardening experience, is perfect learning extension.

How to assess the lessons? Honestly, anecdotal. Seeing happy kids, free to explore, in their genius hour, in developmentally appropriate ways, how joyous! That's assessment.

Then the harvest. Learning in the school garden is a festival of celebration. When children taste the garden vegie they tended, there's the aha! moment of moments. The ultimate flow state in action.

I also love to see flower gardens at schools. Adding beauty that blooms off and on, is awesome. A great way to experience the concept of sequence, a bonus. 

Children of all ages and stages are the ultimate blooms. One of my favorite classic books is "Leo The Late Bloomer".  I so identify. Maybe we all do. All kids learn best, differently, so we may teach everything at least three times in three ways. Offer children opportunity to design and assess their own learning, and decide what they want to know next, there's KWL. 

I don't believe in faiure, only feedback. I rarely make it through a single day without making some sort of error or having a new obstacle thrown in my path. I think that's true of everybody, don't you? Sometimes gardens don't work as planned that season, so there's a lesson to be learned and changes made. Nobody has to buy in, it's all obvious. That's what happens in good schools with shared leadership.

Taking walks with children, working in gardens, painting maps and dinosaurs on the playgrounds are all garden tending. The planning and execution of these school projects offers a variety of reading, writing, math, thematic curriculum at its best. Gardens of the heart.

Gardening is a sort of "double alignment" with state and district standards and is common to the core, for sure. Intense, stategic thinking or metacognition, coupled with deep meaning is what Common Core is all about, at its foundation.

Since it's National Poetry Month, reading a daily poem to the class about gardening, including student written is fun. I'd do a language experience lesson for the littles, writing down what they say about being outside, then reading it back. Sometimes time-tested strategies are so classroom perfected, keep the learning traditions that help kids flourish. That's garden tending. Old and new seeds mix. Traditions matter.

Moreover, gardening adds a" Yo, Yes!" school and class culture experience. Kids work together with buddies or teams, may cross match with other classes. Schools sharing their gardens via Twitter and classroom to classroom via tech is the ultimate.

You might have fun doing Gardening "Flat Stanley" projects, integrating every imaginable learning aspect. Pens Pals can be more than just electronic.

 Fine and large motor opportunities involved in tending that garden help reading. There's actually some perceptual and tracking opportunity. It's also a kind of phonemic awareness lesson, with its rhythmic rhyme, rhythm and repetition elements. Haiku!

School culture is enhanced with gardens. Watching schools bloom means students bloom. Happy teachers, staff and all stakeholders feel the love, determine academic successs and make it happen.

The process of shared "visioneering", closely followed by a renewed Mission Statement plants those beginning seedling packets. Start with a nucleus of seed pods and the growth will move from there. It's like watching corn grow. I'd start with something like:

To build a school that is safe, calm, and without hunger. To build a school where learning is the primary goal and failure is not an option. To build a school where routines, rituals, celebrations are the norm of the school climate. To build a school where all voices are heard, especially those quiet ones, who have important thoughts, too. To build a school that is a sanctuary for the child, in every way.

When I was a little girl I planted pansies with my father. Some of my happy memories of that house and time on Clinton Street revolve around digging in the dirt, hanging with Dad.

I'll bet all you gardeners out there are planting those seeds right now for spring revival and rejuvenation after class tending all year. A lot of flowers and vegies are blooming right now. 

I'd like to extend this lesson with the idea of a School Farmers' market, with parent and community involvement. Consider the many opportunities. 

As I picked my azaleas this morning, I was so thrilled they finally bloomed, all in brilliant color, just radiant. Schools are gardens of the heart. Thank you, gardeners.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita




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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 45 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

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Guest Friday, 28 October 2016