By Kim Robson
School gardens provide a dynamic and beautiful learning environment for kids, where science, math, reading, environmental studies, nutrition, and health can be taught. There, children can experience a deeper understanding of nature and become better stewards of the Earth. They learn how to design the garden, then cultivate, care for, and harvest the results with their own hands.
The dynamic nature of a garden allows kids to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn. School gardens are living science centers where lessons are drawn from real life, encouraging students to actively participate in learning. Their plants must be measured, counted, weighed, arranged, planned and cared for. A school garden engages a child intellectually, emotionally and socially.
School gardening develops community spirit, common purpose and cultural appreciation by bringing together students, school staff, parents, local businesses and civic organizations. The California Department of Education views school gardening as a program that “provides dynamic environments that support student mastery of educational standards.” School gardening is recommended also by the National Science Standards, and most state and local educational bodies.
• Venue for small performances such as musical ensembles, poetry readings, or outdoor theater;
• Creative writing or drawing in the garden;
• Site for community leaders to announce awards or celebrate events in the school or community;
• Raise seedlings for a community beautification project;
• Grow and harvest herbs or vegetables to eat — a tasty way for students to connect to their food;
• Use a portion of produce in school meals when paid for by food service directors (Imagine the pride your little gardeners will feel!); and
• As part of a mission to help the less fortunate, grow fresh vegetables for a homeless shelter.
Your child’s school doesn’t have any space for a garden? Does it have chain-link fencing? If so, then there are yards and yards of trellis for growing vines, beans, or squash. Wooly School Garden has all the resources for creating a vertical garden with hanging pockets, and kits are quite economical. They also provide free resources for funding your school’s garden, from grants to fundraising to donation request letters. Teachers can also grow plants indoors – consider a mushroom plot, or various terrariums.
School Garden Wizard is another comprehensive resource for everything you could possibly need in order to get your school’s garden in the ground. From presenting your idea to officials, to planning the program, to designing, building, and planting the garden, to learning activities, this site has it all.
Finally, here are just a few fun garden themes for your child’s school (or your own garden) to choose from:
American History Garden: Learn about heirloom varietals, foods eaten by Native Americans, and plants the Colonists used for dyes, food, and medicines. Collect and save seeds.
Butterfly Garden: Research and cultivate plants that attract butterflies on their seasonal migrations. Learn about the butterfly life cycle and the importance of pollinating plants.
Herb Garden: Learn about the use of herbs throughout history; brew herbal tea; and make oils, vinegars, and sachets for gifts.
Jack & The Beanstalk Garden: (Great for the young ones) Set up a bean teepee and plant climbing beans. Include giant sunflowers. Read the book to them in the garden.
Kitchen Garden: Plant fruits and veggies the kids can use to make salads, salsa, or even pizza! Plant different or unusual foods they’ve never tried before.
Sensory Garden: Use plants that can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled and even heard. Include edible flowers like nasturtiums, pansies and borages.
Tea Garden: Plant tea leaves, mint, chamomile and lavender. Learn about the history of tea and the difference between black, green and herbal teas. Study the Boston Tea Party and plant an “alternative tea” used by Colonists to avoid buying costly, over-taxed real tea.
Wildlife Garden: Research plants that attract wildlife like birds, butterflies and rabbits. Include berries for food, grasses for cover, and seeds like sunflower and millet. Install a bird feeder and a birdbath. In the winter, hang pinecones smeared with peanut butter on trees.
Gardening opens a door to discovery of the living world. It’s exciting for kids, but it also focuses and calms them. Without even realizing it, they’ll be learning valuable life lessons about healthy lifestyle choices, environmental stewardship and community involvement.