What Kids Learn From Digging in the Dirt

When this teacher of twenty years, with a Masters in reading and a concentration in language arts was asked to transition from first grade homeroom teacher to special area science teacher, I’ll admit, I paused. How was I going to shift from having one group of precious six year olds for an entire school year to teaching over two-hundred students at five different grade levels each week?

The transition, while a bit daunting, gave me the opportunity to reflect on my teaching philosophy which is “to prepare children for the world.” Hands on, authentic learning opportunities and time to practice new skills hadn’t failed me in the classroom with my students, or at home with my own children. Teaching your kid to tie her shoes? Give her some sneakers and time to practice!  Teaching him to tell time? Give him a clock and time to practice!  Teaching a class to read? Give them some books and time to practice!  It only made sense that when I transitioned to teaching earth and life sciences, my classes would need to get outside and start digging on a regular basis! Thankfully, my new classroom opened up to an enclosed garden space, which just required a little bit of love and attention.

When we moved our lessons from the familiar setting of our science lab out and into the attached garden, I expected my students to learn about different types of soil, the life cycles of plants and insects, as well as the seasons.  I found however, that while the students were meeting the objectives of our daily lessons, they also began making connections between what was happening in the garden to what they had been experiencing outside of science class.  For instance, one young scientist was able to identify toad eggs in the pond based on an informational text she had read in her homeroom the week prior. While this may seem like a small accomplishment, this student had just taken on one of her first leadership roles, facilitating a conversation among her classmates based on the connection she had made.

Unexpected results when utilizing the garden space, like developing leadership qualities, have been the most rewarding aspect of encouraging students to dig in the dirt. Their thoughtful questions have inspired improvements to our School and its surrounding community. One student questioned why we weren’t growing fresh produce for our lunches for the hungry program. We are now!  Another small group of students initiated a school-wide composting program.

Our little garden is now being utilized as a meeting space for all members of our community. It’s not unusual to look outside my classroom window and spot middle school students filming a scene for their acting class or an upper school student building an addition onto our chicken coop for his Eagle Scout project. Digging in the dirt has given all members of our community a safe space to take healthy risks and in so doing, learn more about ourselves and each other.

Nancy Dimitriades

Nancy Dimitriades

Lower School Science Teacher

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