Plants and Wellness in the Classroom

Today my students and I started a wellness project around caring for our basic needs and the needs of others. I was inspired by the note my student left me last week about how I created an atmosphere in the class where she felt like she belonged. This weekend when I was at teacher’s convention, I attended a session by Allan Kehler about mental health in the classroom. One of the biggest things that stuck with me as I left was that sometimes we need to put the curriculum aside and take care of the (emotional) needs of our students. I remembered reading somewhere that caring for plants in the classroom was a mood booster and taught students to care for other beings.

Originally I was very sure I was going to create a research project with a proposal out of this for Language Arts and Health but as the students interacted with the plants, I realized that they needed to just have fun and learn about the plant in their own way. Really, all they needed to know was how to care for the plant or what the plant needed to survive. The reaction of the students was priceless. They were so excited about the plants, the fact they got to name the plants and take care of the plants that they didn’t even care about the fact there was a piece of paper asking them to plan out what they wanted to learn and how they were going to do this.

One of the questions that most of the groups did answer at least was what they thought taking care of a plant will do. Between talking to the students and reading their papers, each one saw a different value to the project. Here are some of what they said:

  • I think that caring for a plant will make me want to come to school to see how it is doing and care for it because maybe my partner will not be here.
  • I think that caring for a plant will make me feel good
  • I think that caring for a plant will make me want to be early to school because it might need watering and my partner might not be at school to water it.
  • I think that caring for a plant will make it grow and make more of them so we can share them.
  • I think that caring for a plant will be so fun because I like plants and I like challenges. Plants are interesting in every way and I might learn what they eat and how they keep from dying.
  • I think that caring for a plant will give us information about the different plants and their natural habitats.
  • I think that caring for a plant will help me with responsibility.
  • I think that caring for a plant will be a little bit of a challenge because it can be a little tricky to remember when it is the next time to water the plant and when the last water of the plant was. I think it will be fun to raise a plant!
  • I think that caring for a plant will be a good way to help me relax when I am feeling stressed.
  • I think that caring for a plant will make our classroom cooler!

So what exactly is this project? Students were given a choice of plants to care for for the rest of the year. Students were then asked research the needs of of the plants and reflect on how caring for a plant might make them feel. The goal of this project is that students will be able to learn about caring for the needs of others as well as recognize the importance of caring for their own needs. We will explore what our needs are in comparison to those of the plant and reflect on the process and what they have taken away from this initiative.

And of course, here are some of the pictures from our morning!

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Knowing your students is more important than knowing the curriculum

The other day I noticed that many of my students were just not having a great day or there had been a few things that were not going well for them for one reason or another. In my pocket was my chalk marker so knowing it would come off the tables and desks, I decided to bring a little cheer to a few of my students by writing a note to them. That soon turned to the whole class after hitting those students who really could use a little extra love and attention.

While they worked, I would pop by their spot and leave a few words. Instantly the mood of the classroom changed. The kids were excited to see what I would write for them. It made them extremely happy. When a few were rubbed off by accident, they were heartbroken. This evening I went and fixed them up and managed to finish the few I didn’t have a chance to finish since I had to stop and get back to teaching the next lesson after snack break.

Something I didn’t think would really be noticed or that would make some of the kids roll their eyes turned into something huge and meaningful for each of the students. It touched my heart to see how happy they were by something so simple.

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Loving our students on purpose

I flipped through a book called Loving our Kids on Purpose the other day. The title drew me in because I am always interested in the idea of being intentional with our actions with kids. While I don’t have any children as my own, the premise of the book struck close to me because it is all about building a heart connection with our children and teaching them to manage the freedom they’ve been given in their life. This was important lesson I learned this year with my students. I had to build a close connection with my students and I teach them to navigate their education and responsibility given to them.

I give my students a lot of freedom in my class. I shape my teaching around their ideas, curiosities, and needs. It is not about giving them what they want however. If that were the case, they would have skipped math class, drawn with Sharpie on each other, and taken a nap. It isn’t about saying “NO”. It’s about redirecting and teaching them, while respecting the unique individuals they are. It’s about helping them learn how to manage their freedom as learners and citizens of our classroom. It requires me to be attentive to my students and seize those teachable moments when they occur. My students did not choose me as their teacher but I chose to become a teacher. I needed to make a choice to love my students the way they deserved.