by Danica Smith, FoodCorps Garden Educator Manager
Much of public school is focused on academic achievement, and for various reasons emotions don’t often receive due attention. Emotions are not an inconvenience, but a way to help us reflect, slow down, learn, and heal. How does a school garden support emotional intelligence in children? School gardens are spaces of abundance, life, beauty, edible treats, creatures, tools, and learning in an untraditional setting where process is honored. In the garden one cannot rush a plant to grow. Everything is accepted how it is, how it looks, how it grows differently from the plant next to it. As a Garden Educator Manager (GEM), I adopt this principle into how the children grow. I want to see, hear, honor all their diverse dreams, fears, problems and emotions. Gardens give time for the diversity and education of real, intense human experiences that children are going through, just like the adults of their world and I get to be that caring, consistent adult that respects them. It is a privilege to elevate students in their journey of life.
Sometimes if a student is having an intense moment or an emotional outburst, I stop and say, “Wow, thank you for being so brave to share your feelings with me/us, that must have taken a lot of courage.” Acknowledging the realness of their emotions, and validating them is important. Then, depending on the group dynamic or activity, I can either find a way to have face to face time with that child, or I can turn it into a learning and connecting moment for the whole group, myself included. Listening to them, I can help identify or label emotions and actions we may wanna do when we feel a certain way, i.e. “I’m so mad I want to hit my friend or slam the garden gate!” All emotions are acceptable, but not all behaviors are. I aid in solution oriented, safe and effective ways that particular child can express their anger/sadness/boredom/etc. while in the school garden, with the hopes this self-regulation will permeate past the garden fence. Gardens add a space, atmosphere, and toolkit for developing and working with emotions, adding a much needed resource to our public schools. If gardens become more endemic in school communities, like the computer lab, math and the library, then social emotional intelligence education can flourish.
Quick tools for students to learn emotional intelligence within the garden:
One Cool Earth
where every child deserves a place to grow.