By FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton
Springtime brings fresh rain, beautiful blooms, and for Georgia educators, the high-stakes, demanding period of Milestones testing. In the weeks directly before and during Milestones, it’s infeasible for most testing classes to get out and learn in the school garden–there’s simply too much material to cover to devote time to the slower paced, experiential learning for which gardens are best.
But that doesn’t mean testing teachers and their students must miss out on enjoying the delights of spring in the garden. At my elementary schools, we practiced what we call “Mindfulness in the Garden.” Teachers sign up for fifteen minute slots, and I walk students through various calming and centering activities. Some of our favorites include:
- practicing a bit of plant-inspired body movement. We start small and close to the ground as seeds; move our feet and wiggle our toes as our roots start to grow; stand up straight as our stem reaches to the sky; spread our arms wide as our leaves capture sunlight; open our eyes wide and smile as beautiful flowers; and finally hop into the shape of our favorite fruit (my personal favorite banana).
- lying or sitting, in the shade or the sun, in a place where we will not disturb anyone near us. We close our eyes (or not, if someone doesn’t want to), and take five deep breaths. We then start to notice everything we can hear (cars, birds, breeze in the grass); smell (mud, a hopefully faint whiff of our compost tumbler); and feel (sunshine, wind, the Earth supporting our bodies). We take a few moments to appreciate how wondrous it is to have a body and to simply exist on a Tuesday afternoon.
- reading garden-inspired poetry. A particular favorite is Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates risueños y otros poemas de primavera by Francisco X. Alarcón. We usually read each poem in both English and Spanish; if we don’t all speak both languages, we take the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the sounds of language, separate from its meaning.
Practicing mindfulness in the garden calms and centers our brains, so we are better equipped to deal with the real and important stressor of testing. It also helps our garden become a more dynamic aspect of our school landscape and culture, a place for mental and emotional well-being, as well as physical and intellectual development.