A school garden is a unique learning enviroment. The garden is not as free as recess nor as confined as a classroom. A school garden is an outdoor or garden classroom. Just as there are rules and norms for recess and the indoor classroom, effective instuction in the garden classroom depends on a management style appropriate to the location.
The following tips on outdoor classroom management come from chapter 9 of CSGN's Gardens for Learning: Creating and Sustaining Your School Garden
Want to learn more about effective outdoor classroom management? Check out additional resources from our Steps to a Garden pages including a webinar from edWeb's Growing School Garden Community on outdoor classroom management.
Excerpted from chapter 9 Sustaining Your School Garden, Gardens for Learning.
Outdoor Classroom Management
Working with students in an outdoor learning environment is different from teaching in a traditional classroom setting. To make sure your time in the garden is both productive and enjoyable, here are a few tips on classroom management:
Establish garden rules. Create a set of simple rules and share them with students before you go out to the garden. Additionally, post the rules in the garden as a reminder. Try to phrase them in a positive way. Rules may include items like remembering to walk on paths, asking before you pick, and remaining in the garden area during class. Keep the list short so rules are easy to remember and follow.
Train students on using tools. Before going out to the garden, show students all the different tools they may use and demonstrate the proper way to use them. Make sure they know to carry the working end of the tool below their waist and not to run while holding tools. Also discuss proper storage of the tools and why it is important not to leave them lying in pathways.
Recruit help. You will need at least one other adult in the garden to be prepared for emergencies (if one child needs special attention, you cannot leave the rest of the class outside alone). Depending on the size of your class, it may be preferable to have three or four adult volunteers. Keeping the activities hands-on is an important aspect of learning in the garden, and this is hard to accomplish without plenty of volunteer support.
Divide your class into small groups. Smaller groups allow for more hands-on experience. It is best if you have a volunteer to lead each group, but if that is not possible, provide clear instructions for what each group should accomplish. Choose the groups carefully, taking care to match up students who will work well together.
Provide a comfortable sitting area. If you are planning to talk to the class as a whole for an extended time in the garden, use an area where they can comfortably sit to listen. Trying to talk to the group in a small space with obstructed views turns into a frustrating experience, and students quickly lose interest. It is best if this area allows them to sit in a circle or semicircle so they can clearly see you and feel connected to the rest of the group. Some schools create sitting areas with benches, hay bales, or even a well-maintained lawn area. If you do not have a good sitting area in your garden, deliver all group presentations or demonstrations in the classroom and reserve the garden for the smaller group activities. See a photo gallery on school garden gathering areas.
Be prepared for emergencies. Always have a first aid kit in the garden. Know if any of your students have special health concerns, such as asthma or an allergy to bee stings.
Tips on Outdoor Classroom Management
From Karen Nordstrom, Teacher, Mintie White Elementary School, Watsonville, CA