In the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure to participate in and lead a handful of school-wide garden celebrations—full day events, where 200-300 students have the opportunity to kick off the growing season by participating in various garden maintenance projects. The lead-up to these garden work days can be undeniably stressful, but the payoff is always worth it. There’s nothing like seeing a group of youth realize they have the power to transform a weedy plot of land into a properly planted garden.
So, how do you successfully coordinate and facilitate a full day of gardening activities for your entire school? Here are some of the best practices I stick to when it comes to these events…
- Start planning early. There are many moving parts to a school-wide garden celebration, so it’s good to give yourself (or your planning committee, if you happen to have one) a month to two months to get everything in order.
- Get the school community excited. Once you’ve decided to host a garden work day, let students and parents know. Send home information in weekly newsletters and put up posters around school (you might find parents want to help out).
- Create a simple sign-up sheet. Divide a school day into enough time slots for every class to sign-up for a garden visit. 20-30 minutes is a decent amount of time to tackle a small project without losing student interest. Decide if your garden is big enough to handle two classes at once or if the event has to take place over multiple days.
- Brainstorm jobs and assignments. Figure out what maintenance tasks or projects each class will tackle during their garden visit, and who will be leading them. I’ve found it can be very helpful to have one dedicated individual out in the garden all day to help guide groups and coordinate garden tasks, which brings us to our next point...
- Recruit volunteers! When working in the garden there are certain youth-to-facilitator ratios I like to maintain… when I say facilitator, I mean someone who knows exactly what needs to be done in the garden and is leading the activity, as opposed to someone who is simply there to support and provide assistance with group management. (For many of these school-wide garden celebrations that I’ve participated in, it’s the volunteer who will be taking on the facilitator role and the teacher who will help supervise their students). Ideally, I like to have no more than 10:1 for elementary school students and about 20:1 for middle and high school students.
- Have more work than you think you can accomplish. It’s always better to have more tasks in the garden than necessary. Leave all those weeds untouched, don’t unpack all your tools just yet—turn everything into a task for students to take on.
- But don’t rush. Take your time explaining what youth will be doing, why it’s important or helpful, and how they can accomplish these tasks safely. If the garden work doesn’t get done, it’s not the end of the world.
- Divide your tasks and spread them out. Rather than assigning 20 kids to a single garden bed in the hopes that all those hands can get everything from weeding and cultivating to planting and watering done in one go, spread out the workload. Have 5 kids at each bed and let them take their time to accomplish a single task. Not only is it less chaotic, but it leaves room for exploration and discovery.
- Incorporate a garden-themed game or activity. Not sure you have enough work for every class? Have students spend half of their time on a maintenance project and half their time on a garden-themed game or activity, like a quick scavenger hunt or relay race.
- Have fun!
Feel free to contribute your own tips for planning and leading a school-wide garden celebration in the comments!