Why School Gardens?
We are excited to cultivate a student garden at Colere Academy! School gardens offer many benefits, such as:
A school garden is a powerful environmental education tool. Through gardening, students become responsible caretakers. They have an opportunity to engage in agricultural practices on a small scale, learning about the responsibilities and impacts of land cultivation. They explore the web of interactions among the living and nonliving players that sustain life. By doing so, they develop a greater understanding of the natural world. For many children, a garden offers the only chance to get close to nature. Some lack access to gardening spaces because of their living situations while others have limited exploratory free time in the outdoors due to the focus on indoor activities and participation in organized outdoor activities. School garden educators in urban environments frequently find their programs provide students’ first opportunity to dig into the soil and watch a plant grow.
Establishing a connection with nature at an early age is extremely important. Researchers discovered childhood experiences with nature are strongly linked to adult attitudes toward plants. They determined that participation in active gardening during childhood was the most important influence in explaining adult environmental attitudes and actions and concluded that even in urban areas where green spaces are limited, gardening programs for children can provide a strong enough connection to instill appreciation and respect for nature in adulthood.
Community and Social Development
Community and social development lessons do not receive the attention of academic achievement, but they are as crucial to the survival of our country as reading and writing. Children must learn how to take responsibility for their environment and develop a strong sense of community to ensure the continuation of our society.
Gardens create opportunities for students to work cooperatively and to take on responsibilities. They will quickly learn the negative consequences associated with forgetting to water their plants on a hot day and will work hard to make sure it does not happen again. The plants will also provide positive reinforcement in response to proper care by growing or producing fruits, contributing to development of a good work ethic. On a personal level, gardening builds confidence, self-esteem, and pride as the students watch their efforts turn into beautiful and productive gardens. It also teaches them patience as they wait for a seedling to sprout or a tomato to ripen.
Gardens provide unique opportunities for cross-generational connections. While gardening, children interact with teachers, parents and community volunteers providing opportunities for social interaction often missing in our society because of hectic schedules and the role of technology. The garden provides children opportunities to ask questions, share thoughts and work cooperatively toward a common goal. Through a garden, students help to beautify the school grounds. For many, it is their only chance to contribute positively to their environment. The praise they receive from other students, parents, teachers and community members will create a sense of community spirit and introduce them to the benefits of volunteering. Above all, gardening is fun and is a skill that, once acquired, can be a lifelong hobby. Spending time outside, exploring in the soil, watching seeds grow, and harvesting the bounty can be enjoyable and memorable ways for students to spend their time.
A Healthy Lifestyle
Beyond academics, the garden provides broader life lessons including contributing to students’ knowledge of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The state of California is experiencing a major health crisis as the number of overweight and obese youth is growing at an epidemic rate. Approximately one in three children is overweight or at risk of being overweight, and almost 40 percent of school-aged children are considered unfit. The number of weight-related chronic diseases such as diabetes is of great concern to health care professionals, and the need for prevention education is critical.
Garden programs work to combat this epidemic by teaching youth about healthy lifestyles including proper nutrition and physical activity. Through a gardening program, students gain first hand experience with fresh fruits and vegetables. They discover that produce does not magically appear on the grocery store shelves and learn about the important role of agriculture in our society. The pride and curiosity sparked by growing the fruits and vegetables along with the familiarity of where they come from motivates students to try them, often times leading to more positive attitudes and eating behaviors. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of the diet not only because they provide essential vitamins, but also because they are also linked to prevention of health problems like cancer and heart disease. Studies show that a majority of children do not eat the recommended amount of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, and so they are missing out on these benefits. A garden program increases produce availability and creates opportunities to teach students what they should eat through fun, hands-on experiences.
A healthy lifestyle is more than just eating right, though. Students also need to adopt good exercise habits. The garden provides a wide range of physical activity through digging, planting and weeding. The garden activities are often so captivating that students will not even realize they are exercising. Plus, it is an activity they can participate in for the rest of their lives.
Academic achievement is the primary focus of educators throughout the country. Emphasis is placed on ensuring students perform at satisfactory levels guided by local, state and national academic standards. All lessons and activities must complement mandatory standards to merit the use of valuable classroom time.
A school garden is a perfect tool to provide hands-on learning experiences for any academic subject. Science is the most common subject linked to gardens. Many teachers use the garden as a laboratory to introduce students to scientific methods through plant-related experiments. Additionally, a garden provides a place to study weather, insects, soil and other environmental topics. It’s the ideal habitat model for studying ecosystems. The real-life experiences contribute greatly to students’ comprehension and retention of new science knowledge, a fact supported by studies linking participation in a gardening program to increases in science achievement scores.
In addition to science, the garden provides opportunities to teach mathematics, history-social science, English language arts, and visual and performing arts. Concepts that seem abstract in the classroom come alive in a garden setting. For instance, students find taking daily measurements of garden bean plants and then charting the growth rate to determine the fastest growing plant in the garden much more exciting than charting numbers provided by a textbook.
Did you experience gardening in your childhood? How did it influence you as an adult?