A vegetable garden at Holy Family Catholic Primary Menai is helping to grow wellbeing across the school community.
The school adopted the KidsMatter framework for wellbeing and positive mental health in 2015 and is now putting in place the second phase of four – social and emotional learning. The first phase focused successfully on belonging.
The school vegetable garden was reintroduced in August last year with the help of Learning Support Officer and parent Christina Huopainen, whose science knowledge and horticultural skills have seen it thrive.
So too have the children who tend the garden which is a fresh food source, opportunity to hone leadership skills, and space for quiet time out. Year 6 environment leaders care for the garden with the help of parent and student volunteers from all grades.
The garden is a place where all students can find enjoyment and a sense of achievement.
Mrs Huopainen said parent volunteers garden for the last hour of the school day on Fridays. The environment leaders also sell produce including leafy greens, herbs, tomatoes and beetroot at a Friday morning stall, which has raised more than $1500 for charity this year.
The system has continued with the current crop of Year 6 students who have joined the team. Year 5 students stepped temporarily into the role when Year 6 went on a Canberra excursion last term.
“Something that was really apparent to me was that the shy were then more confident and the students with behavioural challenges listened and quieted down,” Mrs Huopainen said. “The garden is a place where all students can find enjoyment and a sense of achievement. They love being part of the hands-on experience and learning about the soil, the garden, and what season vegetables grow.”
Wellbeing Coordinator Sepy Nadalin has also trialled an emotional regulation program with students from different grades that separates behaviour and emotions in to zones – blue for bored, sad and tired; red for anger; yellow for worried or frustrated; green for happy, calm, focused and ready to learn.
“There are so many more students presenting with signs of anxiety and inability to regulate their emotions,” she said. “The zones of regulation get them to understand what triggers they have that could put them in those zones and what strategies they could use to help them move out of those zones.
“It gives them the opportunity to take some responsibility for regulating their emotions. Students in the groups are helping each other and giving suggestions.”
Sharing strategies in KidsMatter
An inaugural joint meeting of Sydney Catholic Schools in Sydney’s south west who have adopted the KidsMatter wellbeing framework was held late October. Teachers and wellbeing coordinators from schools including attended the event, facilitated by KidsMatter NSW Project Officer Joanne Dwyer.
Mrs Nadalin said the event was an opportunity to see what other schools in the region were doing and to share resources.
“There were different schools at different stages which was great because KidsMatter is a framework. They give you all of these resources but it’s sometimes difficult to determine what the best resources are for your school.
“Some schools presented on the different programs that they use. That has given us some insight into how successful some of the programs are. We now have a shared resource folder that we can go to access all of the different things each school are doing which is fantastic.
“If we know something is successful at another school in the region it’s likely to work with our children because we have similar demographics. It is going to continue and we’re really excited about that.”