Image courtesy of draban at

Image courtesy of draban at

My windowsill is full of tiny bedding plants- tomatoes, kale and basil. Actually, they are not so tiny any more, as some are growing out of their pots, with their roots creeping through the cracks. They appear ready for the vegetable garden, but the garden is not ready. Mother Nature is playing tricks on us, sending frost warnings, and I even saw some snowflakes yesterday. I have no room left on the kitchen table and window sills, but I won’t let them go yet. Visitors can come again when the plants vacate the kitchen.

This is much like our students with learning difficulties. They need extra attention, need to be listened to, encouraged and given extra support. Some receive educational therapy to strengthen their weak areas and to build their confidence. At times, if the classroom environment is too “frosty”, they might need a safe place to retreat to. Teachers strive to be attentive to their needs on a daily basis, which can be a challenge in a busy classroom. Parents of struggling students often carry an extra dose of patience, and they create a safe space for their child at home, a retreat after a busy day at school.

What can we do to help these students experience success? Here are a few suggestions for teachers or parents to reflect on. Some might not be practical, but might trigger another idea that is workable in your situation. It is very important that struggling learners have “hands on” experiences to help them manoeuvre through their days. Being outdoors is also essential for these students, both at home and at school, to get the fresh air and stimulation for their thinking skills.

  • Create a small garden outside (or a terrarium inside) that your student/child helps create, plant, and take care of. (Ever-bearing strawberries are great fun. For ideas check out (An interesting fact: Research shows that children who garden eat more vegetables.)
  • Have a small aquarium or large fish bowl in your room, with a low-maintenance fish, (a beta fish is beautiful, and easy to care for) and put this under the care of your student. (I’ve had a student who struggled with social and learning challenges, and would come to the fish and talk to her fish for a few minutes before starting her work. This was her safe place, and she’d come in during lunch to clean the aquarium and hang out with her pet fish.)
  • Once a month, (or on a birthday) put aside your “lesson plans” for your time with your student, and have a games day, or have your student as the therapist for one or two techniques. They must plan ahead for this, which involves planning and organizational skills, and they love to sit in your chair.
  • Plan a baking session together if they are interested in this, involving all types of measurement and hands-on learning, with a delicious end product to share with their friends.
  • Go outside for a 15 minute break and lie on the grass gazing at the clouds and finding all different types of shapes, expanding vocabulary and imagination at the same time as letting the mind rest. (National Wildlife Federation urges parents to institute an outdoor “green hour” for kids.)
  • Focus on one positive experience with the student after a therapy session or lesson, or for parents when tucking your child into bed. Celebrate the precious moments!

I will not let my little tomato and kale plants struggle on their own outside in the cold, and prepare them for the next stage by hardening them during the day, and bringing them in at night. In the same way, our students need to take small steps to venture forward, letting them get their “hands dirty” in the world around them through experiences they can feel positive about. We can guide them to the next level of competence, whether in reading fluency, math competence, or learning how to keep the persistent weeds under control in their little garden space, and enjoying the fruits of their labour.


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