Plants in the Classroom and the Garden Classroom: When Nature Becomes the Best Textbook | Community
Every morning, around 11:50 a.m., the bell rings at elementary, middle, and high schools to let thousands of children and youth out for recess. It will be like this every day from Monday to Friday until late June. But maybe the school playground isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yves Raibaud, a researcher, educator and specialist in comprehensive urban planning, has studied schoolyards in depth. He analyzed how traditional asphalt-covered courts encourage hierarchical games, where elite groups occupy the central space while other groups are relegated to the periphery. “We must change the design and dynamics of the school playground and put an end to the current rigid concept that allows these concrete spaces to surrender to exclusive and exclusionary games. We must bring nature to the playgrounds,” says Cesar del Arco, a high school biology teacher.
Del Arco has been involved in various projects to create open classrooms in schools in the Castile and León region (Spain). Nature is key. “Having a school garden is very important, but we must go further and allow nature to permeate the entire school environment.” This includes not only growing flowers and vegetables, but also creating outdoor classrooms that can be used to teach any subject, thus promoting interdisciplinary learning. Plants are a great support for project-based and challenging learning. This has been demonstrated through the initiatives in which Del Arco has been involved. “The goal of the school garden is to generate questions that get students involved in finding the answers as if they were researchers,” he explains.
“The list of plants that can be used for educational purposes is endless,” Del Arco continues. Saffron has a wealth of educational potential because it allows us to talk about ethnobotany, history, radial geometry, and even economics. “One exercise might be to invite students to think about why saffron is so valuable, by weighing the pistils of fresh and dried flowers.” There are many other options. In February, daffodils can support genetics and geometry lessons or be used to teach fractals. In mathematics, plants such as corn, sunflowers, and mushrooms are very interesting because of their rapid growth that can be observed from day to day. The teacher suggests: “You can stick a ruler next to them and do observation activities to make graphs of their growth.” The spirals of pine cones or the tendrils of Boston ivy covering the court wall illustrate the mathematical Fibonacci sequence and golden ratio ratios. Maples, birches, and ash trees allow us to design experiments in physics: simply throwing seed pods into the air and counting how long they take to fall will make the aerodynamic equations clearer. In music lessons, the potential of plants is inexhaustible. Flutes can be made from bamboo reeds. Peas or any other plant containing seeds can be incorporated into the maraca; And so on… The possibilities are practically endless in art classes too, with projects like experimenting with collage, Practice transferring textures with charcoal, braiding with natural fibers, making dyes from flowers and roots, or making insect hotels with pine cones, horsetail sticks, bamboo canes, old tiles and bricks, pallets, or other recycled materials.
“Solanaceae flowers (mirabilis jalapa) “It’s ideal for clarifying questions about the mechanisms of dominant and recessive genes in high school genetics classes,” Del Arco says. In physical education, the garden crop is central to the conversation about nutrition. You can design exercise tables with routines associated with working in the garden (squats, steps, etc.), yoga and breathing exercises with aromatic scents such as rosemary, lavender, mint or thyme. These aromatics are also interesting for contextualizing topics in history and for experiments in chemistry, such as a soap making workshop. Furthermore, they are the ideal species for creating sensory pathways through which students can experience textures and scents. “(This is) something that is highly recommended for working with children and youth with special needs, including ADHD,” the teacher says. “The simple fact of being outdoors makes the student more motivated and receptive,” he says.
Humanities education flourishes
In teaching the humanities, the scientific nomenclature of plants links us to topics from both modern and classical languages. “We will learn that sativus (as in Cucumber Sativa Cucumber) means planted. officinalis (as in Lavender officinalis Lavender) means medicinal. And Common (as in Thymus vulgaris The teacher says: “Thyme means common.” They will learn about the acanthus leaves on Corinthian capitals in art history class without having to memorize them. In our language lessons, the names of garden tools and tasks lead us to literary words, archaic words, or obsolete words. You can learn orchard and garden vocabulary in all languages that are taught in each institution.
Counting the rings on a tree trunk allows you to identify dates that could be connected to historical events and then create a timeline. Who has not germinated seeds on wet cotton? “Another step is to draw the process in vignettes to create a humorous story. Or have students take a few photos each day and then edit them with video editing software to make their own stop-motion vignette. Corn, arugula, mustard, or any legume seeds are perfect for this experiment,” Biology teacher suggests.
Shade, coolness, seating areas, and other tips for the school garden
The guidelines for designing a good school garden are to take into account the local hardiness index (given by the minimum year-round temperatures in the place where the school is located), choose plants that require little watering, give priority to native species, and avoid Poisonous or prickly plants such as oleander, cotoneaster, or carategus. Del Arco points out four environments that should not be forgotten: “An orchard with deciduous species to benefit from light in winter and shade when the heat of summer sets in; grove; Aromatic zone and flower beds or planters of perennials with staggered flowering periods for pedagogical use: garlic, onions, hyacinths, crocuses, tulips, lupine, hostas, etc. Furnishing the yard with tree trunks that serve as tables and benches is a good idea. Full circle.
In addition to being ideal learning environments, open classrooms contribute to the creation of more sustainable cities, which is linked to the 2030 Agenda. “These spaces act as islands of green, they are hotspots of biodiversity and bring nature closer to schools,” says Del Arco. The ideal scenario, he adds, is for students and the entire community to participate in the design, “forming groups with parents and neighbors to take care of the plants during the holidays.” “It can be a very rich intergenerational experience for young people to learn about gardening, ethnobotany and traditional crafts from their grandparents.” Schools can go the extra mile by incorporating elements such as green roofs that help regulate the temperature inside the building (in summer as well as winter), rainwater collection systems for irrigation, compost bins, and raised planters so all students can work in them. Likewise, by bringing plants inside the school so that, in addition to being decorative, they create a teaching and learning pathway that links to the playground.
Furthermore, nature provides the perfect excuse to address education in values and activities that encourage discussion and reflection. “Every school year I suggest reading to my students The man who planted trees “It was written by Jean Giono,” says Carlos Lopez, an art history teacher and high school teacher. “It is a frank and poignant story that addresses themes such as environmentalism, philanthropy, altruism, the value of perseverance, humility, and many more.” It is an uplifting story that highlights the need to care for our immediate environment in which we coexist with others, animals, and plants. It’s a lesson best learned when we’re young, and what better place than a schoolyard?
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