By Larraine Roulston:
Gardeners, as well as most children, love digging their hands into soil, finding worms and picking nutritious foods grown in backyard gardens. Interest has been growing, particularly in urban areas, in creating nature and vegetable gardens at schools. Recent studies suggest that, in addition to the many environmental and health benefits of growing your own fruits and vegetables, gardening also reduces symptoms of ADHD and stress in students.
As an overall learning tool, the hands-on participation of a school garden appears to be essential in encouraging constructive attitudes towards learning. Research supporting this theory was conducted between 1990 and 2010, and showed “overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.” Other studies indicated a positive correlation between school gardening and subjects such as math, language and science. Team partners in twenty-six states in the U.S. are working to develop the Next Generation Science Standards. As teachers strive to align their course studies with these new standards, gardens can help play a role in empowering the next generation.
The Nature Conservancy has been taking the gardening experience to students. Its aim is to prepare our youth with the tools needed to safeguard their environment while these children of various ages learn about earth’s natural cycles. Besides taking ownership of growing their own vegetables, students are enhancing their school grounds and communities. Teachers also utilize the gardens to increase pollination, storm-water collection, and to lessen the heat (known as the heat island effect) that accompanies city life.
On April 15, in the Greater Toronto Area, Pickering’s Dunbarton High School was presented with the “Greenest School on Earth” award from the Global Coalition for Green Schools, an initiative of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council. One of Dunbarton’s many environmental accomplishments is its garden. Students in the wood shop course built 4 garden boxes approximately 4′ x 3′ x 4′ fitted with hinged plexiglass roofs. The boxes are filled with soil. Students start seeds at home, awaiting warm spring weather for transplanting their seedlings into the boxes. When the plants are ready to harvest, some of the organic produce will be donated to the community’s local food bank.
Many schools have nature or butterfly gardens in which flowers such as hollyhocks for butterflies and especially milkweed for the survival of the Monarch butterfly are grown. Two years ago, a pollinator garden was established beside Dunbarton’s outdoor classroom. A pollinator garden is one of flowers and plants that attracts bees, moths, and other pollinators as well.
David Gordon, teacher and advisor for the school’s Environment Council is grateful for the entire residential, business and political encouragement he receives, and added that they all provide our students with opportunities to deepen their understanding of sustainable practices. He stated, “This is what the world needs to adapt to a changing future, young people prepared to take action in a supportive community.”
A school’s unwanted food scraps and yard trimmings should be composted. One method is through a municipal green bin collection program. The other can be part of hands-on gardening, where students can compost what is manageable and at the same time experience the magic of the natural biological process that converts organic material into a dark nutrient-rich soil, a symbol of continuing life.
One of Michelle Obama’s many achievements includes the White House garden she created to inspire Americans to become aware of healthier food choices. The best way to engage youth of all ages to learn to love and appreciate wholesome foods is to have them construct their very own vegetable gardens.
Larraine authors children’s illustrated adventure books on composting at www.castlecompost.com