News & Events

7 Lessons from the Garden

Our Healthy Out-of-School Time Team recently met in Portland, Oregon for a team building meeting. We shared stories from the field and discussed how we can efficiently and effectively continue to support before, after school and summer providers.

Here's what I learned:

1. Small Steps Create Big Change.
The task I chose at our service project was to remove grass from in between vegetable beds. The garden was overrun with grass and weeds. By the end of the day I found myself looking at a clean bed, and you never would have known the first step was to just pull up one dandelion.

Creating culture change in after school is the same. Making a few simple changes can build to something great and sustainable.

2. Sometimes You Have to Try Different Strategies.
I’m not a gardener and to be honest, I had no idea how to use any of the gardening tools the project planners provided. I started with a hoe and carefully used it to dig up weeds. I soon found that tool wasn’t working for my task, so I traded it in for rake.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself using one resource to motivate staff and then it becomes ineffective. Don't be afraid to switch to something new. Explore new resources and experiment.

3. Admit When You Need Help.
Looking down at my work halfway through the project, I wasn’t sure if my little plot of land even looked the way it was supposed to. I sheepishly smiled at my teammate Ashley and said, “Is this what this needs to look like? I have no idea.” She looked back without judgement and said, “I think so.”

Our work in healthy out-of-school time is exactly the same. Sometimes you get a little lost, but the key is accepting that we’re all in this together.

4. Accept that Not Every Day Is a Sunny Day.
Halfway through our project, it started to rain and turned cold and windy. We put on our jackets and kept going even though we were all getting muddy. We were committed to our cause.

As you build support and take action to create healthier afterschool environments, some days will be bright and sunny with supportive parents, engaged children and motivated staff. Other days, you'll find the work isn't as fulfilling or enthusiastic. Guard yourself by finding support in your teammates and other organizations across the country doing this work.

5. Incentives Help.
We started our service project right after lunch on Tuesday. Yet, when the organizers said “we have water and snacks for you,” it felt motivating. Did I need a snack? No. Did it feel good that someone thought about our needs? Yes.

As you proceed in creating change, make sure you consistently celebrate the contributions of others. In many cases it isn’t what the reward is... it’s the thought.

6. Stay Focused on Your Ultimate Goal.
At the end of our project we were honored by having an elementary age group walk through the freshly cleaned garden. They came to see the peas they had planted weeks before. They paraded through the garden, waved, danced and smiled. At that moment, all the bending over, pulling of weeds and confusion about what tool to use disappeared.

Take time to be reminded of the end goal of this work and invite others to stop and reflect too.

7. Find Joy.
This work is hard.

Don't forget to smile and know you're helping lead a movement to ensure all young people can eat better and move more in out-of-school time.

Daniel Hatcher is our National Health Out-of-School Time Advisor and is the author of our blog about all things out-of-school time. Read more of Daniel's blogs.


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