“A garden is a grand teacher”, horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll wrote. School administrators obviously agree because the nation is in the midst of a school gardening boom. The number of school gardens nearly doubled between 2013 and 2015. More than 7,000 American schools now have a garden.
Most teachers start a school garden program in elementary schools, and grow flowers or veggies. Some include unique features, such as chickens, orchards, and aquaponics systems (where students raise fish and use the fishes’ waste to feed plants). Teachers use gardening activities to teach nearly every discipline, including health, nutrition, science, math, environmental studies, language arts, art, and social studies. Students in one California school sow native plants to learn what the state looked like prior to European settlement. In other schools, kids test soil composition, learn about food chains and ecosystems, measure plants as they grow, calculate the perimeter and area of garden beds, and keep gardening journals.
Researchers examining how gardening impacts students have found that school gardens–sometimes called “living classrooms”–cultivate more than just plants. Students who participate in school gardens are on average more engaged in what they’re learning, boast higher science test scores, and eat more fruits and vegetables than their non-gardening peers.
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Cultivating Young Minds
Teachers who integrate gardening into lessons say it is a powerful, hands-on learning tool that engages kids better than typical classroom instruction.
Fertilizing Social and Emotional Development
Caring for plants together and waiting for them to grow also teaches kids about cooperation, responsibility, patience, and delayed gratification. Nature-based activities, including gardening, also help kids relieve stress, improve attention spans, and ease symptoms of ADHD.
Most kids love learning in the garden. And it’s not just students who benefit emotionally and socially from school gardens; teachers who are trained to do garden activities with their students report higher morale and job satisfaction.
Planting Healthy Lifestyles and Environmental Consciousness
Learning to garden as a kid can shape life-long habits. School gardens can improve children’s eating habits, at least in the short term.
Gardening may also inspire an increasingly urban population–81.5 percent of American kids live in urban areas–to take care of the environment. Many kids put their hands in dirt and relate with the natural world for the first time in school gardens.
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