Gardens can be spaces where young people come together to create connections with one another, with place, and with food. Furthermore, gardens can support students in becoming open-minded, open-hearted agents of positive change in their communities.
One way to intentionally build community in the garden is to create a garden based community agreement that is revisited every day with your students.
Before you lead your students through a tasting tour of the garden, it is important you go over a few important rules about harvesting plants with care. Remind them that they should only eat the plants that you invite them to eat, and to always ask before tasting something new. Be sure to tell them we will only be picking a little bit of every plant we eat because we share the garden with lots of other people who would love to taste the garden too. Going over these rules reinforces how it is important that we care for ourselves, for the plants and for others. Once the rules are made clear, you can encourage them to build a connection with place and food by inviting them to taste some of the plants that are growing in the garden.
Ask the students to look for some similarities between what people need to grow as a community and what plants need to grow as you go over the instructions. Provide them with an example, such as some plants like to grow close to each other and some plants need lots of space and some people like to be around lots of other people while others like to spend more time on their own.
As you show them how to plant the sunflower, emphasize that gardening is about caring and that we are making a home for this seed. Tell them about The Secret of the Seed (http://wiki.islandwood.org/index.php?title=Secret_of_the_seed) and emphasize how seeds tell us exactly how they want to be planted, just like people might tell us exactly what they need by using verbal or non-verbal communication. Finally, discuss how to take care of the seed so that it can grow into a strong sunflower full of its own seeds. This section provides a great opportunity to add parallels between plant care and taking care of the people around us. For instance, tell them that they need lots of sunshine so it is important to put it in a place where it can get sunshine, to check in with the plant every other day by looking at its body language and how dry the soil is, and that when it becomes about a foot tall it will be ready to be planted outside.
Once you are done planting, ask them: “What might be some of the similarities between what people need to grow as a community and what plants need to grow?” This section might be difficult for students whose abstract thought has not developed enough to see the parallels so be ready to scaffold them as needed.
The Community Agreement:
Before you start this section, you will need a large paper with sunflower seeds drawn at the bottom with each of the students names on it and a line to demonstrate the soil above them (reference the picture below).
Building on the previous discussion you are going to ask the students: “What do we need to grow as a team this week?” As the students provide you with answers, have students write them down near their seed.
Students are usually quick to provide you with big concepts like respect, cooperation, communication and team work. It is imperative that you push them to break these down into specific things they can do. For example, if a student suggests the word respect ask them to break that down for the team. Ask, “What does respect look like?” this tends to help them think of a concrete way we can show respect such as, listening to one another. Here is a link to demonstrate how to push the students to provide you with more concrete examples of how they can work as a team: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XF8zL2TRxG0.
Revisiting the Community Agreement:
This is section of the lesson is vital because it reinforces to the students that they are part of a community that will support their growth. They are responsible for their own growth and responsible for supporting their community’s growth too.
At the beginning of the day circle up the students and lay the community agreement in the middle of the circle. Ask them to read what we wrote in the soil yesterday. Then ask them to choose one of those things to focus on for the day but to make sure they keep that to themselves. It will be their personal goal for the day and they will get an opportunity to share it with the group later in the day. Once they have chosen something, ask them to grow a stem about the length of their hand. Setting an intention for the day is their first opportunity to grow today.
At the end of the day, circle up the students around the sheet again so you can go through an accountability circle. You should start by modeling what you are going to expect them to do. Share what your intention was for the day and choose a quiet raised hand to share how they noticed you work on your intention that day. For instance, you might have chosen “be positive” as your intention and a student might put their hand up and share, “I noticed you being positive when you encouraged us to keep going when we were tiered.” After the student notices you, you can grow your sunflower the length of your hand. Having worked on your intentions is their second opportunity to grow.
Now the student who noticed you will share his/her intention and any student who has not noticed yet can raise their hand. You can only “notice” someone in your group once; this is important because it ensures that everyone participates and is accountable for their own growth and for the growth of their community members. It can get harder to notice one another as less students are allowed to raise their hands to notice one another, so make sure that you are the last one to notice. This ensures the last student will not be left without someone noticing them.
By the end of the accountability circle everyone should have grown twice that day. You can revisit the community agreement as many times as you think is necessary for your group or class need to. One way you could ensure that it lasts longer is to change how tall they grow every time, for instance they could only be growing an inch every time.
Growing a Sunflower:
Before this section, you will need to have cut out paper in the shape of a sunflower seed, about the size of your hand. You should have as many seeds as you have students.
The last time you go through the accountability circle, the students should draw the sunflower instead of the stem. Take this opportunity to celebrate how much they have grown as a community. Share with them that they have grown so much this week that they have their very own seed to plant in another community of their choice. Once you have celebrated, hand them each a sunflower seed and ask them to write down something they have learned in this community that they would like to share with another community they are a part of.
During your conclusion, you should take the chance to circle back to the sunflowers they planted, and will take home, as reminders of what they have learned and what they want to share with their own community.
The garden is full of opportunities to use metaphors that apply to building community and to personal growth. This lesson intentionally takes advantage of this by creating a structure in which students can draw connections between tangible elements of the garden and abstract concepts such as building community.