Each school day, teachers must carefully plan and account for their instructional minutes. For each grade level has specific time recommendations for math and English language arts, so teachers often feel they do not have the time to include extra activities in their already packed schedules. When UC CalFresh gave a brief survey to teachers a Santa Maria school last year, teachers identified the following barriers to using their school garden for instruction:
- Lack of instructional time or preparation time
- Lack of curriculum and learning activities
- Too many students to manage in the outdoor setting
These concerns reflected comments that UC CalFresh nutrition educators frequently heard from teachers who were invited to bring their students to the school garden.
Taking these concerns into consideration, UC CalFresh developed innovative strategies to meet the needs of school teachers, showing how instructional minutes in the garden don't have to be “extra” and can include hands-on learning for English language arts and math, with a focus on nutrition. The strategies include:
- Clearly aligning garden-based nutrition education with common core lessons
- Providing garden-based curriculum and materials for learning activities in the garden
- Hosting Garden Open House Days, during which teachers can bring their students to the garden when UC CalFresh Educators are present to increase educator-to-student ratios.
To meet the needs of partnering teachers, UC CalFresh educators developed “No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits,” enabling teachers to teach common core-aligned nutrition education lessons without having to use prep time to make copies or create materials of their own. This year, based on the survey data, UC CalFresh expanded the No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits to include lessons that could be taught in the garden.
The first No-Prep Garden-Based Nutrition Education Kit was piloted in October and featured pumpkins. The No-Prep Kit became fondly known as the Pumpkin Kit. The Pumpkin Kit encouraged teachers to take the lesson out to the garden, increasing students' physical activity time while providing opportunities for students to practice common core skills. The kit focuses on nutrition and cooking while reinforcing math, science and language arts. The kit includes books, worksheets, an oven, and several different pumpkins for measuring, cooking, estimating, and tasting. This kit requires no teacher prep time, is adaptable to any primary grade level, and is an easy introduction to garden-based lesson delivery.
During a Garden Open House Day hosted by UC CalFresh in October, kindergarten students and their fifth-grade buddies came out to the garden. The fifth-grade buddies worked with the kindergarten students to use observation skills (five senses), learn adjectives, and draw the pumpkin life cycle. The older buddies gained teaching and language arts skills while working with their little buddies in the garden. Students got to dissect the pumpkins in teams and used the seeds for counting. Each kindergartener took 20 seeds home to practice counting with their parents, which also served as a budding connection for students' families and the school garden.
"If we had something like this every month, we would be able to go out into the garden more and maybe we could get more teachers to come. This is what we need, curriculum that can be used in the garden," said kindergarten teacher Mrs. Joaquin.
Moving forward, UC CalFresh is piloting bimonthly No-Prep Kits for garden-based lessons, featuring the USDA's DigIn! curriculum, as well as other UC curricula. Teachers can teach with the kits on their own in the garden or come during UC CalFresh hosted Garden Open House Days for extra educator support. By easing teachers' paths into the garden, students get to spend time outdoors, engage in physical activity, and participate in learning that reinforces their science, English language arts and math skill development.
“The program has been awesome," said one fourth-grade teacher. "[UC CalFresh] incorporated math, science, social studies into lessons. Students were excited and engaged. Many tried new vegetables they'd never had before and liked them! Kids learned responsibility and pride in designing, choosing plants, maintaining and harvesting in school garden.”
For more on UC CalFresh of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties see the Facebook page at facebook.com/uccalfreshslosb