School gardens have been present in public schools across the nation for quite some time. Most people who have spent any amount of time in a garden can easily identify benefits such as promoting healthy eating habits, engaging in physical activity, taking in natural vitamin D, and connecting to our beautiful world. But for many students and adults, setting foot in a garden is a foreign experience. School gardens bring a variety of opportunities that benefit students and staff both academically and socially. Here are the top 3 reasons why educators choose to engage in a gardening program.
#1: Real-life, hands-on application of state standards
The ultimate goal of any school program is to improve the academic achievement of students. Research has proven that one of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to give students experiences in required state standards that connect learning to real life experiences. Spending time in the garden interacting with soil, planting seeds, or observing pollinators such as bees and butterflies deepens student learning of required state standards like soil layers and insect and plant life cycles. Through garden experiences, students truly connect to otherwise esoteric topics. Students living in urban environments often have very little exposure to a garden experiences. Gardening takes time and space which is sometimes limited in urban environments. But even for students who live in suburban or rural settings, who may have experiences with gardening, connecting those to learning is another layer. Catherine Bartlett, Principal at Lone Star Elementary in Montgomery, Texas, says “I do not think the majority of our students have regular access to gardening, and if they do, it is not happening in alignment with grade level curriculum.” School gardens give students opportunities to experience topics and content that they must learn in an engaging and long- lasting way.
#2: Increasing vocabulary and higher level thinking
Most jobs in the 21st-century will require employees to communicate at exemplary levels and utilize high levels of thinking on a daily basis. If schools are to prepare students for the world they will live in, increasing academic vocabulary and higher order thinking are necessities. These skills have also been proven to have a high level of impact on student achievement. School gardens provide not only the opportunity to hear new words and phrases, but also to experience this new vocabulary in the correct context while connecting to an engaging experience. An ecosystem becomes something real in a garden instead of a strange word. The impact of environmental changes such as a drought become more than words when students see the impact on the plants they have lovingly planted and tended. Observing insect structures and functions helps to make these terms a reality instead of a jumble of letters.
Higher level thinking opportunities abound in the garden. When students dig their hands into the soil to insert a seed and then return later to see a seedling, a plant, and eventually a watermelon sprouting from the soil, students increase their thought complexity through exploring relationships such as cause and effect. In a garden, students categorize and classify plants and animals. Students assess why some plants grew exponentially while others died. In a garden, students hypothesize what will happen and then get to see whether the results match their prediction. Each of these experiences and so many more which occur in school gardens increase students’ abilities to increase their working vocabulary, make deep connections and, thereby, increase their learning.
#3: Social Emotional Learning
We can all agree that our schools, communities, and nation would benefit from improved interactions between people of different backgrounds and beliefs. All students enter schools with very different life experiences and learning to work cooperatively and communicate effectively for a common goal and the greater good is a valuable skill to be acquired. School gardens provide a unique opportunity to improve students’ ability to collaborate and problem solve thereby increasing their social emotional capacity. As students explore and observe, they engage in rich discussions and learn from each other as well as adults. When high-quality instruction is provided in the garden, students can be led to engage in exploring scenarios about where food comes from and what access areas and communities may have which can help build empathy. Students also help tend the garden which benefits the school and community increasing their understanding of civic responsibility.
The benefits of school gardening encompass a wide variety of skills that children need to be successful in the future. Whether the focus is on increasing knowledge or emotional capacity, many life lessons can be learned in the garden.
~ Jennifer Vest for Ready to Grow Gardens
About Ready to Grow Gardens:
Ready to Grow Gardens of Tomball, Texas and owner, Stephanie Baker, and her staff provide high-quality instruction which not only teaches students the basics of gardening and how the school garden ties to their state standards, but also help students engage in discussions and increasing their ability to connect with others.