My Brain/ My Garden
What type of thought seeds are you planting? Are they seeds of anger? Are they seeds of kindness? These are the questions that introduce this instructional practice of collaboration and learning from one another. Let’s plant a garden in our classroom as we tend to the garden of our minds and explore what happens! What will we grow? How will we tend to the plants, and what do we do about the weeds? For the past year, students of all ages have enjoyed this group activity as we explore the garden analogy. It has sprouted discussions about brain architecture, neuroplasticity, connection, and the seeds that we plant to create regulation and emotional well-being.
We began this activity a year ago with middle school students, and the staff joined in. This spring, in our fifth-grade classroom, we observed our own minds and discussed what types of thoughts and feelings we've planted and what we could do if the weeds of continual negative thoughts and feelings were overwhelming the garden. We began with these discussion points, brainstormed together, and began collecting our thoughts and ideas in our brain journals. This is what we came up with:
Our gardens need water, sunlight, and good, rich soil.
What is the soil of your mind/garden like? What type of environment and experiences feel nourishing and good to you?
Our gardens may need some shade and a protective enclosure.
Who or what experiences watered your mind/garden this week? What types of experiences or persons fill you up and bring you hope and encouragement? Are you getting enough water?
Who and what experiences are your sunlight? Who can see the best and brightest in you when you or others cannot? Are you getting enough sunlight?
Sometimes we need a little shade and quiet. Are you getting the shade, the quiet, and the reflections you need?
What places help you to feel safe? What people?
What sounds feel good to your brain? What types of rooms or outdoor areas?
Who protects you? What do you do to self-protect? Do you need to repair the fence or enclosure that is your protection?
How can school and your classmates help your garden to grow and flourish?
What are the weeds in the garden of your brain? Are you pulling them out by the root? Why is this important?
My Brain's Garden - Video 9
This spring, as we began observing the seeds that we are always planting in our minds and hearts, we also intended to plant a garden of lavender to watch how our attention and care can nourish the actual plants as they grow. Even as we would have tended our lavender plants, we would have charted and tracked our own brain states to build awareness of the water, sunlight, nutrients, and shade that we always need to flourish. We would have watched our gardens change and grow over the remaining weeks of the school year, and our attention to them would have been a touchpoint to share with each other. Sadly, because our schools closed so abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to invite our students into this living metaphor of co-regulation and well-being. We hope that their learning in Ms. Spitole's classroom from August through March has given them a greater understanding of their brain states and a sense of how much control they truly have over their own well-being. I hope to visit these many of these students next school year to check in with how they worked through their brain states--their living gardens--during these days of COVID-19.