Growing Young Minds in School Gardens

Photo by hoyasmeg via flickr

Photo by hoyasmeg via flickr

Today’s Washington Post features a great article on school gardens and the No Child Left Inside Act, a piece of legislation we discussed last week here at TGSG. The Post article talks about several DC area schools using school gardens as outdoor classrooms, and how children and educators alike are benefiting from the experience.

I have been involved with the school gardening movement for 10 years, and even had the pleasure of working with some of the schools mentioned in the article, including adding on to the Peace Garden with teachers and students at Carodozo High School. I have seen first-hand students flourish by planning, planting, and learning in a garden — elbow-deep in soil, sun on small backs — minds, imaginations and bodies fully engaged.

School gardens have been shown to help improve test scores, as well reduce behavior issues in the classroom. The hands-on, real-world learning these spaces provide help students grasp concepts in a meaningful way, while the physical act of being outdoors and working and exploring in a garden offers an outlet for excess energy. I have seen students that struggle in traditional classrooms really make great learning strides in a school garden. They truly are living classrooms.

While it’s simple to see uses for a school garden in teaching science and and environmental studies, they are also great places to teach literacy, math, art, and social studies. The integration of a variety of subjects makes a garden an amazing, cost effective way to teach many lessons and engage students with different learning styles. With funds increasingly limited for field trips, gardens offer a much needed break from the classroom walls, without ever having to board a school bus. No permission slips necessary!

School gardens are also a great place to teach character development skills, like teamwork, communication skills, responsibility, and more. They are also a way to help children learn about nutrition and a tie to other health education issues. For older students, gardens offer a place to explore potential careers, such as landscape architecture, soil science, botany, and more. One enterprising high school class I worked with set up a stand at a local farmers’ market and sold part of their harvest. They learned a lot about financial management, business development, and marketing in the process.

Now, it must be said that school gardens are also a lot of work. I have seen just as many go back to seed or get mowed over as I have seen flourish. It takes more than the commitment of an excited and dedicated teacher — much more. Gardens need support of the administration, the grounds keepers, and the parents to truly work — and this commitment has to be renewed each year. Just like the seasons, school communities change, and a garden’s maintenance and support plan needs to change along with it.

From preschool to high school, school gardens provide a place to learn, explore, and have fun right on the school grounds. With the proper support, they offer a school community a way to engage in exciting hands-on learning while adding a level of beauty to the landscape that can be enjoyed by everyone, including neighbors and the community at large.

For more information on school gardens, including lesson plans, grant information, and a Parents’ Primer on gardening, visit the great folks at The American Gardening Associaiton. The Junior Master Gardener’s Program also has a lot of useful information, including the Growing Good Kids – Excellence in Children’s Literature Book Awards Program.

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

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