The following post is a reprint of a paper I wrote five years ago this spring, during my very first course for graduate studies in the field of Environmental Education. Much has changed since then, namely the cessation of Evergreen Garden Club, a group to which I refer in this post. However, I find myself in a place/time/position where imbuing excitement is needed again. Since I wrote my Poetry Friday post before I realized it was Thursday, I fell back on reposting some of my essays on Environmental Education.
How Do I Imbue Excitement in Garden Club?
Over the years, Evergreen Garden Club has offered a constant of relevant lessons for our young learners. Even as you look at the EE Strands and Learner Guidelines, a key for 4th grade is “keeping it local.”
Researching and installing the butterfly garden created a great deal of excitement! It is a garden on our school grounds, accessible to the entire student body and appreciated by parents, staff, and our community neighbors. It makes the students feel important to have this garden and take care of it. Each spring and fall when garden club students are in the garden, a sense of wonder and excitement fills the air! Many – not all our lessons – are based off this garden. Some examples are:
- plant life cycles
- seasonal changes
All are important, all are relevant, all are exciting! Additionally, any improvements made to the garden such as certification as a Monarch Way Station, the planting of a nearby Autumn Blaze Maple Tree, or just using the garden to look at seed heads or Fibonacci Numbers in Nature imbues excitement for our group!
I have found that any, well organized (*KEY*), activity brings excitement to the garden club lessons. My personal favorite is forcing paperwhite bulbs at holiday time as we explore our Holiday Plant unit which includes; Poinsettias, Christmas Cactus, Mistletoe, Paperwhites, and Amaryllis Bulbs. Again, these topics were relevant and timely to the time of year. We’ve explored pumpkins (plant life cycle) and corn during harvest seasons, presidential gardens during February, and Cactus or Epiphytes or Carnivorous Plants in the winter when we can’t get outside for an extended period of time. However, we have also explored conifers in the winter and made bird seed ornaments in January to hang on our Blue Spruce in the front of our school building to enable us to get outside and enjoy a project in the winter.
This year a great deal of excitement was stirred up by doing a unit on Terrariums! Each student was responsible for bringing their own container, so as the time approached there was a great deal of anticipation about what we would be “putting inside” and how things would grow in a closed environment! We also had a chance to study the water cycle this way!
The children enjoy all these hands-on activities and the visibility their work produces. It is why my lessons are split with an informational, interactive discussion and an activity that matches the lesson!
The 2013-14 school year has also been exciting as we have had the pleasure of an expert, guest speaker for the first time, celebrated our 10th year anniversary, and produced a dedicated garden club website for our club. You may view the website at: http://evergreengardenclub.weebly.com. I have really enjoyed putting that together for the students, families, and teachers that support our group!
Currently, I am working on an idea for having the 5th graders produce a “button” as their end of year project that can be given to our members as their recognition at our end of year assembly. Inclusion in this all student body assembly for the last few years has also produced excitement and makes the garden club students feel important! Recognition is important, especially if the students are doing “extra” work to improve not only themselves, but our school building and grounds.
We have had fundraisers in the past that also created excitement. The fundraisers were plant sales that the students helped with in various ways; making plant tags, collecting containers, selling at the tables, creating signage. However, although this does create excitement; I must note that it also changes the focus of the learning for the students. It is not something I am fond of undertaking on a regular basis. It seems to all become about the “sale” instead of what they are learning. Although, I recognize that sustaining our group is important and am constantly on the lookout for other ways to do this (grants, donations, etc.). Sometimes, creating excitement for your group, from outside sources helps to secure funding. We are waiting to hear about a potential “donor” now.
When I think back to teachers I have had, or that my boys have had more recently, that have made lasting impacts, there are two main qualities that seem to make all the difference in effective education, no matter what the subject content. These are; 1) an obvious investment in the students (this can be exhibited in several ways – time spent on school/classroom projects, preparation outside the school day is one; extensive individual feedback is another), and 2) a visible passion for what you are teaching. Unfortunately, I am not seeing either of these qualities to a great extent with younger teachers, these days. However, we need to instill the importance of these two qualities in all educators, for EE or the classroom!
It is the teachers with the above qualities (from my observation, if they have one; they usually have both), that I am proud to try and emulate to provide a sense of excitement and relevance, letting my students know they are important! And so, it is in part, how our group succeeds!
How would you stimulate excitement in children regarding nature? Have you ever had to imbue excitement? If so, what did you do? Please let me know in the comments! Thanks!