kids gardening

Should Every School Have a Year-Round Gardening Program?

Gardening was an integral part of life for many of our ancestors in generations past, but today, most of us get all of our food at large supermarkets and spend very little time thinking about where it actually comes from, or how it’s grown. It’s time to institute a nationwide school gardening program to teach kids about how to grow food and reconnect people with their roots.

Why have a school gardening program

This, unfortunately, has been passed down to our children, and today’s kids are very disconnected from the land and their food. There are some schools, however, who are trying to change that.

The Waldorf School 

The Waldorf School of Cape Cod has a 24 by 48-foot hoop house on their school property, wherein the children, along with adults, plant and harvest crops such as carrots, spinach, kale, and other vegetables. 

The program teaches students the process that is required for a seed to become a ripe fruit or vegetable, and in turn, they learn the benefits of growing your own food. The greenhouse, which features a removable roof for the summer months to avoid overheating, devotes half of its space to an open area where students and teachers can congregate and learn.

Every student in the school devotes some time each year to working in the greenhouse, but the third-grade students are always the weekly farmers, in charge of tasks such as turning lunch scraps into compost using the school’s tumbling composter. The newest addition to the project is a worm bed inside the hoop house to create vermicompost.

Even throughout the summer, the school offers family gardening once a week so students can come with their parents and work in the garden.

Read: Alaska High School Teacher Hunted a Moose and had his Students Butcher the Animal to Learn Life Skills

The Charlton Manor Primary School

Another great example of a school garden comes out of the UK, at London’s Charlton Manor Primary School. It was started by the school’s headteacher, Tim Baker after he saw news reports stating that today’s children were lacking in knowledge of where their food came from. He decided that he would put some unused land on the school’s property to good use and start a garden.

“I saw a garden as an opportunity for the children to learn in a real way, in an outdoor context, while also instilling an understanding of where their food came from and the importance of eating fruit and vegetables.” [2]

Baker wanted to use the garden to teach other topics as well, including life cycles, flowering plants, pollination, adaptation, creative writing, and report writing. 

“I believed that plenty of subjects could be well taught in a garden, while increasing pupils’ activity levels and encouraging teamwork,” he said [2].

He explained that there was also a behavioral element to it. In his mind, the garden was an opportunity to help the students develop a sense of responsibility for something.

After four years, the garden has now become a central part of the school’s curriculum. While some of the staff were concerned that behavioral problems would worsen if the classroom was taken outside, once they started using the garden they noticed a distinct behavioral change in their more difficult pupils.

Children at the school have now used the garden as a backdrop for creative projects, as well as math lessons.

“In maths measurement classes, children have mapped out flower beds rather than relying on small-scale drawings in textbooks. We’ve produced charts and graphs by measuring sprouting sunflowers, and recorded weather information from the weather station and charted its effects.” [2]

Produce from the garden is sold at the school shop, which is run by students on weekdays. The sales revenue helps to fund the garden and has allowed them to purchase tools and supplies when needed.

Baker has seen the remarkable positive impact the garden has had at his school and his community.

“The garden has transformed the school and provided wonderful learning opportunities for the children. It has brought the community together in a huge way and continues to develop.” [2]

Read: 12 Survival Skills Your Great-Grandparents Knew (That Most Of Us Have Forgotten)

The Benefits of School Gardens

In the United States, there are nearly five thousand school gardens in operation [3]. The benefits of these gardens are innumerable. In a time when kids are spending more and more time in front of screens, and when childhood obesity is on the rise, a school garden can promote being outside, physical activity, and healthy eating.

Studies have shown that areas with greater access to affordable produce, along with higher costs of fast-food, are associated with lower BMIs. Many experts agree that schools can and should play a role in changing children’s perspectives about food and providing access to healthy choices.

“Every time kids set foot in the cafeteria, they are absorbing messages about food and what a healthy meal should look like,” says Bettina Elias Siegal, an expert on children and food policy [4].

Curt Ellis is the CEO of FoodCorps, an organization that has placed service members at 350 schools across the country to deliver gardening and cooking lessons and encourage a school-wide culture of health and nutrition. He says that the traditional way nutrition has been taught is not creating the kind of healthy eating culture that children need.

“In far too many schools around the country, nutrition education looks like an authority figure standing at the front of the classroom pointing at a government poster on the wall,” he explains. “Just as we have learned that rote memorization is no longer the right way to teach kids math or English skills, the same is true with nutrition education.” [4]

School gardens give students the opportunity to taste and eat healthy food, learn how to grow fruits and vegetables, and develop teamwork skills. They promote better nutrition, and they teach children to value the work of the people who grow our food on a daily basis [5].

Gardens provide an experiential, hands-on learning environment. Kids are engaged in a real-world activity and are encouraged to explore and reason independently. They help children to change their eating habits by building an emotional connection to the food that they’re growing, making them more open-minded when it comes to trying new dishes [4].

Tim Baker has witnessed all of these benefits and more at his school.

“That’s why for me, a garden in whatever guise – from wooded plot to a handful of makeshift containers, hanging baskets or a window sill – should be viewed as an essential learning tool for all schools.” [2]

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  1. ‘How a school garden has transformed the way we teach’ The Guardian Tim Baker. Published September 29, 2017.
  3. ‘The long-lasting benefits of a school garden — supporting health and wellness, encouraging students to choose nutritious foods’ Harvard Leah Shafer. Published July 31, 2018.
  4. ‘5 benefits of school gardens’ FAO Published March 15, 2018.