Simple is better. It’s my new lesson-planning mantra. I’ve learned it from my students, who continually amaze me with their capability for being captivated by the simple things.
A planned ten-minute game interlude in a first grade class takes on a life of its own. Students are absorbed in “Sunlight, Moonlight,” a variation on the classic Red Light, Green Light, and want to invent new rules for each round; they could play for hours and never get bored. When we plant beds of spinach seeds, third grade students are totally entranced by the simple action of cultivating dirt with their hands. They crowd in, eager to observe textures and hunt for worms. On a field trip to a local farm, my busload of second grade students couldn’t be more excited just to have the chance to touch a warm chicken egg. They also race each other to the field to get to pull carrots straight from the ground. First graders are blown away when blue food coloring travels up a celery stalk, leaving a vivid stain. In kindergarten, a simple coloring page of a place setting turns into a lively discussion about students’ favorite foods. One of my proudest teaching moments occurred when an entire class of first grade students literally screamed with excitement over the simple pleasure of tasting “grown up” kale from the garden.
When I first approached lesson planning, my instinct was to try to pack complicated multi-step concepts into each lesson. I realized though, that “complicated” too often translates into too much talking from me. My students remind me of the simple joy of exploration, the captivating nature of discovery, and how much more readily this occurs during hands-on learning. The magic moments in my classes happen when students have their hands in the dirt, in a mixing bowl, or dancing in the air because that’s when they’re learning by collecting their own evidence and forming their own opinions. Hanging out with elementary school kids on a regular basis helps me remember how exciting that process of learning something new can be.
Spending a lot of time in elementary school classrooms is also a reminder of just how many things we learn in school. In elementary school, we not only learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic, but we also learn all kinds of interpersonal and social skills. Students are learning how to follow directions, the importance of “please” and “thank you,” and how to get along with and befriend a classroom full of strangers. What I’m realizing is that my favorite moments of “simple” success in my classes are really hiding many not-so-simple lessons. I hope my students are develop an understanding of gardening, food, and health in my classes, but it’s just as, if not more, important to me that they learn to appreciate and enjoy exploring the unknown.
I want students to catch the question-asking bug, to wonder about the world around them, and to pick up a shovel, magnifying glass, or fork to answer their questions. I want them to learn about trying new things, including but not limited to: eating veggies, silly dances, science experiments, and getting dirty. And I want them to realize that an important part of learning is having fun! Ultimately, whether or not students hang on to my lesson’s learning objectives, if I can help them develop as curious, engaged, thoughtful, and adventurous individuals, I think I will have succeeded as a FoodCorps service member.
Sometimes, facing garden planting schedules, food service budgets, and a plethora of local, state and national education standards, farm to school work and nutrition education can seem incredibly complicated. Sometimes, however, it can be as simple as playing a game, pulling a carrot, or planting a seed.
This post was written by Emma Fernandez, the FoodCorps service member in Red Lodge, MT.