Andrew, one of our volunteer garden teachers, took the time to share a list of garden activities and teaching advice with us. The following is his article.
I like breaking a class into 2 groups, one coming with me and one going with teacher, then switching groups halfway through the class. Here is a list of most of my ideas, use them directly or use as a starting point. Tweak them however you think, but also get creative and come up with some ideas yourself. And lets share these ideas with each other and with any other new volunteer.
Sweeping the walkways.
Raking/ Collecting brush for compost.
Turning the compost or adding leaves from big pile to started bed. Unloading new bags. Breaking sticks for compost pile.
Weeding individual beds, or community areas.
Maintaining individual beds.
Watering beds with individual pails.
Seed starters (Plant seeds in additional starter pots, keep by garden, transplant when big). Picking seeds from finished plants, separate and store, take shells to compost.
Insect hunts (use insect viewers and pair up, put up good and bad posters to help identify) Sifting compost to add to finished dirt pile/Pots
Taking weeds/bad bugs to chickens. Clean out the poo in coop for compost.
Squirrel and Blujay (Teams hiding marbles).
Put in cages for plant-support or blankets in case of freeze.
Create a bouquet (Walk around have kids pick 1 from each stop, talk about plant, provide string to tie)
Create bird feeders (Used TP rolls or rectangle cardboard. Hole puncher, string, Jar of PB, bird seed, plastic knives) and have them hung when done. Talk about pros and cons of birds in garden.
Rainwater run off models. (Bring color dye)
Measuring height and/or growth according to grade (K used blocks, 3rd uses rulers.)
Silent and/or blindfolded walk (partners) through garden, focusing on senses, record in journal. Scavenger hunts (create/provide lists) with partners.
Drawing in journals (Kids choose 1 of each: plant, bird, roots, insect, ect.)
Eating/ tasting from community herbs to individual garden bed. Kids pick leaves/veggies for salad or make a cold brew tea out of herbs.
Name acronym (In journal kids write first/last name top to bottom and fill each letter with item they find in the garden. BEN B-Butterfly E-Earthworms N-Nests).
Senses recorded in journal. List something you can taste, feel, see, hear. Have kids draw pictures of what they recorded.
Color checkoff list. Create 8 color list and have kids match with something in garden, have them draw what’s recorded.
Visit with chickens.
Math activity with plants to count.
The ecosystem of garden/of the pond. Create list/drawings in journals. Kids LOVE the pond, you have to keep them away form it most of the time, but you can turn their curiosity into a lesson about what’s in there, the roles of the animals, and how it all works together (Last year there was a turtle in the pond, kids loved to find it and pull it out, I thought that was cool because its a tangible animal, but it was actually destroying the ecosystem! Ate all the plants, plants couldn’t filter water, fish would die. So bring that up and talk about how the balance of ecosystems work.
Advice for volunteers
All my classes line up around the clock/circle by the front porch. When they are ready (quiet and listening) I talk about the current weather/something thats new in garden, but then explain the activities for the day and split up class into 2 groups (Point,1. Point,2. Point,1)
Have kids return to same area at the end of time, recap what they did, leave them with a parting thought/advice. This should take less than 5 mins but establish this routine to help control the energy that the class brings.
Come 30 mins before your class to set up your activities/tools/anything that will be used that day: Lay out gloves if needed, have insect viewers lined and waiting, have seeds chosen). Point being that when the class comes, you will not have the time or energy to divert for this. You will get a lot of kids needing to use the bathroom, and I would ask them to hold it (15 mins, or wait until garden class is over), all but once this was enough and problem resolved. Not saying force a kid to hold it or deny them bathrooms, but your focus and energy will be diverted when you are opening the adult shed/getting key/opening house/deactivating alarm. By the time you get done helping one your group will be in chaos.
If it rained the night before class, you should definitely do the water lesson. Its effect is still present and so kids are able to make a tangible connection. If its windy/humid/abnormally hot or cold, bring that into the introduction for the day or have it be used in the lesson. If you can tell the class is particularly antsy/energetic when they arrive then switch your mental activity to a 2nd physical activity. At our orientation someone pointed out the nest built on the house, I had a kid do that during our introduction circle and we started a class discussion on why it was there, what a nest does, difference in bird species, what it was made of and where that came from: A little inquiry turned into a 10 min discussion.
Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Remember that this is a pretty challenging thing you are doing, so your lessons/activities might not go according to planned. In a way this is controlled chaos, kids don’t want to listen, they want to do their own things or just run around. Kid’s energy levels are naturally high and if they’ve been in class all day without P.E. they will definitely come to the garden rowdy. At the very least your achievement for the day will be that you got the kids out and moving, at the most you helped facilitate their learning and broadened their interest/ perspective of the world around them. I would leave feeling stressed and dejected some days, other days I would leave happy and accomplished, that comes with the territory. Don’t let the bad days knock you out.
A typical day for me if my class comes at 10:30.
My 2 activities today are bug hunt (physical) and drawing in journals (mental).
Get there at 10, open the shed and pull out the bug viewers and identification posters, also the mesh cage to keep the bad ones. Close shed and lock to prevent snoopiness (it will happen). The class has 20 kids so 10 in each group, bug hunts are for partners so I’ll need 5 viewers, put out 6 just in case. I align them on the blue benches by the shed and put up posters on rack. Classes will typically have paper/journals/pencils especially if you coordinated with teacher, but I would always bring them just in case. (Office depot $3 box of golf pencils will get you more than you will ever use but good to have). I put the drawing supplies on the front porch. When I hear the class coming I get by the gate to greet them as they come in. They go to the circle/clock area and I wait for them to be ready (Teachers have their own call/response attention strategies so either adapt that or come with your own (I use a Clapping rhythm). This will get them focused and also show you they are silent and ready for the instruction. I stand in the center of circle and welcome, talk about what the weather was like last week, how the temperature is changing and ask who knows whats happening with the seasons. I’ll then explain what we’re doing today (explicit instruction) saying group 1 will come with me on a bug hunt, group 2 with Mrs. T will be observing and drawing. I go around assigning numbers 1/2 then call group 1 to follow me and 2 to follow Mrs. T (Direct her to the porch where drawing materials are). This should overall take 2-10 mins. Once my group comes to the blue benches I explain more in detail what we are looking for, refer to the poster/list and encourage kids to show me and each other what is found. I recommend places to look, and tell them we are keeping the bad bugs to feed the chickens. They pair up and you let them loose, always keeping and eye on them and making sure they’re not straying (Pond, Standing and talking). I check to see what kids have found and bring them over to the posters and we try to identify the bugs. (Look at watch) 15 mins have passed and I call my group back to our starting bench, then lead them as a group to the front porch to switch. I repeat the same instruction to group 2 and challenge them (Group one found a big beetle! I want to see an even bigger one from you!). Let them loose and repeat observation/questioning/ identification. 15 mins pass and I call group 2 back to starting bench. They put down the viewers and I say “Lets go to the meet-up circle/ lets get with the rest of the class.” We all return to circle/clock and I use attention strategy if needed. Once class is silent/settled I review what we did, ask Mrs. T how her group did, use positive reinforcement and thank them for behaving well today ( If they were bad “You need to show me you can act better next time or you will loose your garden time, remember that this is a privilege and NOT a right to come out here, don’t loose that.) 5 min wrap up time and then Mrs. T takes control and ushers the class out of Garden. I pick up the viewers and posters and return them to the shed, locking it. I scan the porch area for any trash/pencils left, water our garden bed if needed, and leave.