By Lauren Glaze, Community Fellow
Working regularly with young children this year has reminded me of several things, things that most people over the age of about 13 are at risk of forgetting.
As we learn how to act and think - from society at large, the media, and the people around us - we start to censor our thoughts and actions. We start caring a lot more about being the odd one out or left behind. Or at least that is how I was personally socialized, but I know at least a few people who can relate.
Here are some of the things I've realized this year:
1 - The wonder of nature
I think many of us still appreciate the wonder of nature, especially after reaching the top of a mountain or taking a hike deep into the woods to escape it all. But nothing beats the amazed squeal of an excited young kid after seeing a spider, ladybug, or flower. As cheesy as it sounds, wonder is in the small things, too. The fact that life exists to begin with (and in so many forms) is pretty strange when you think about it.
This photo was taken during a class in which we learned about the many wonders of dandelions and foraged for flowers and greens. I promise that there is a big, beaming smile behind the hands in this photo.
After this student chose to help me take out the compost during recess, I gave him a leftover snapdragon as a thank you, not thinking much of it. He loved (and still loves) that flower, showing it off to his friends and teachers, and closely observing it throughout its different stages of growth. He just recently moved it to a larger pot, and it is very much thriving under his care. Every time he comes out to the garden, he runs to the snapdragon section to compare notes.
2 - Never underestimate the power of learning new things
You never know when you might learn something that opens new doors of possibility, opportunities that you previously did not even realize existed. And sometimes, all it takes is someone painting an old concept in a new light to spark a new idea or understanding in your mind.
This clip shows a student learning about mushroom cultivation from Charlie Aller, a previous AMI Fellow and the creative force behind MushLuv, a mushroom operation in Charlottesville, VA. As seen in the clip, she was inspired by learning about growing mushrooms and is looking forward to seeing the fruits of her labor when she returns to school in the fall.
This photo is from one of the pilot classes associated with the new microgreens initiative at Bessie Weller. As part of this project, a group of 5th graders harvested, juiced, and tasted wheatgrass. The teachers did not miss a beat in encouraging the students to think about the physics of why the table was vibrating as the juicer worked and how to find the perimeter of the seed tray. And then they asked - what process caused it to be so green? What is the structure of a plant cell and how does it differ from an animal cell? There are so many questions and opportunities to learn.
3 - It is natural to experience emotions of all kinds - not just the positive ones.
I recently began to collaborate with the school counselor to integrate horticulture therapy into the counseling curriculum. This kind of therapy aims to remind kids that experiencing heavy or uncomfortable emotions is okay and that they are not meant to be suppressed. Instead, it helps teach how to find healthy outlets to avoid harmful outbursts.
The outdoor classroom pictured above is Bessie Weller's “green lab.” It offers the perfect, serene setting for students to practice mindful walks, breathing techniques for emotional regulation, and explore working with support groups with other students experiencing similar difficulties.
When joy strikes, it feels good to fully express it too! In one of my recent seed starting classes, some of the 1st graders decided that it was a good time for an impromptu dance party. And they were right! Seed starting is a joyous occasion worth celebrating.
4 - Hopefully you’re still remembering to do this, but don’t forget to wash your hands!
I am so grateful to be able to continue to work with these kids - I have much to learn!