Whiteboard or shovel?

After a typical day in my first-grade summer class, students leave for home with muddy shoes and dirt under their fingernails, because they have just spent an hour submerging their hands in flower pots, smelling and tasting herbs, and inspecting all the curves and dents of a flower bulb or a seed. We have ditched pencils for watering cans and notebooks for piles of soil.


When I found out I was accepted for an internship at TYO, I did not think that my main tools for this summer would be a shovel and a watering can instead of a whiteboard and a marker. My first-grade students have been at TYO for two sessions, in which they worked very hard on their English, Arabic, and math skills. The summer program offers more space for activities that are not directly connected to the school curriculum, to work on the non-academic skills that are so important for children, especially to those from disadvantaged areas.

On my second day in Nablus, we visited Balata refugee camp, where many of our students live. I disliked the thought of going in as tourists to take a look at people’s houses. But looking back, I realize it was very important to understand where the students at TYO come from. It is a place with a high population density, narrow streets, and limited access to nature, open spaces, or playgrounds.

At the end of the day, TYO’s students are children like any other. They like to play, they are curious, and sometimes are a bit mischievous. But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that the environment in which a child grows up has an undeniable impact on their development - be it positive or negative. Our living conditions affect us.


With the idea of providing students with a stimulating and healthy learning space, I decided that over this summer, I will introduce my first graders to gardening. Children will be planting herbs, watering them, and tasting them when they grow. We will be making bird feeders for the wild birds in our surroundings, looking for the diversity of living creatures around us. We will clean the streets and upcycle the waste for crafts.

We do all of this with one ultimate goal in mind - to teach children that what they do matters. That what they sow, they will harvest. To teach them that not only can they have a positive impact on their immediate surroundings, but also let them discover that they can influence the wider world around them, and that they are responsible for shaping it.

After a few weeks, I already saw the difference. In the beginning, it was difficult for the children to understand how what we were doing was important. Why did we go water the garden outside? But now that the children have become engaged in the process of growing their own little plants, they have developed a sense of responsibility, respect, and care towards them. In the second week, after one of our daily trips to the garden, they didn’t want to leave their plants behind, concerned that they would burn under the sun.


I am very happy that TYO does not follow the path of conventional pedagogy, but that the entire organization here places great importance on holistic education to encourage students to “realize their potential as healthy, active and responsible family and community members.” I believe that by discovering their connection to the natural world around them and nurturing responsibility and care, students will learn not only how to plant beans, but that through continuous work and patience, they can have an impact on the world and its future.

Zuzana, Summer 2019 International Intern