In recent years, many schools have created gardens that enable students to learn experientially while getting fresh air and exercise. Key benefits of these gardens include integrating various curricular areas and making learning activities more engaging.
School gardens provide hands-on, interdisciplinary learning opportunities
A major problem with the current education system is that subjects are learned in isolation, both from one another and from the real-world contexts in which knowledge and problem-solving skills must be applied. The great thing about school gardens is that they connect various curricular areas in a real-world setting.
There are plenty of fun learning opportunities for children of all ages in the garden. Young children can:
- Identify geometric shapes and count seeds (math)
- Learn the myths of various cultures associated with gardens and plants (social studies)
- Create garden maps (geography)
- Read and follow simple directions for planting (language arts)
- Learn which plants they can grow to attract birds and butterflies (science)
- Draw or paint the garden, flowerpots, and plant labels (art)
Examples of garden-related educational activities for older children include:
- Taking measurements and creating graphs and charts (mathematics)
- Learning about the cultural significance of plants grown in other places (social studies)
- Examining the effects of regional climate on plants (geography)
- Writing research reports on garden-related themes (language arts)
- Having contests to see who can grow the best (largest, tastiest, most attractive) produce or flowers by learning about soil conditions and plant care (science)
- Designing templates and carving pumpkins they have grown (art)
Most garden learning activities integrate multiple subject domains. For example, having students grow plants in various mediums or subjecting them to various conditions and reporting on the results covers the following subject areas:
- Science (conducting experiments)
- Mathematics (counting, taking measurements, determining percentages)
- Language arts (writing reports)
- Visual arts (drawing diagrams)
Social skills such as cooperation can also be developed by having students work garden patches in teams.
School gardens meet the needs of diverse learners
Howard Gardner, originator of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, asserts that there are eight primary intelligences:
- Linguistic (words)
- Logical-Mathematical (numbers and reasoning)
- Spatial (images)
- Bodily-Kinaesthetic (movement)
- Musical (music)
- Interpersonal (others)
- Intrapersonal (self)
- Naturalistic (nature)
Students are likely to be strong in one or more of these domains and weak in others. Therefore, many students are poorly served by an educational model that emphasizes textbook learning and paper-and-pencil-based testing because they fiilter knowledge through the narrow channel of language. Not all students learn easily by listening or reading, or can effectively represent what they know via writing. Many learn best by doing and can best indicate their knowledge by creating or demonstrating.
Lesson plans based on school gardens can give various types of learners the opportunity to work with their strengths and improve in areas of weakness, thus increasing student engagement. While the linguistically gifted will enjoy writing reports on plants, the spatial learners will have fun drawing pictures or otherwise representing the garden and planning its design. The bodily-kinaesthetics will have the opportunity to move and engage in physical tasks, those gifted in mathematics will be able to count and measure well, students strong in interpersonal skills will appreciate the chance to garden in groups, and anyone with naturalistic intelligence is bound to enjoy working with plants. A creative teacher may find ways to link musical and intrapersonal skills to the garden as well.
School gardens encourage teamwork and responsibility
School gardens provide an excellent opportunity to teach responsibility because failure to complete required tasks such as watering will cause a student’s plants to die. Thus, students with school gardens learn how to consistently care for something, and they also learn that if they don’t, there are unpleasant consequences.
School gardens also build teamwork skills, which are critical in the modern information economy where most lucrative jobs require the ability to work in groups. Thus, tending a school garden can help to develop key skills that will increase a student’s employability later on.
- Bergsund, M. (2009). “The Benefits of a School Garden.” MyHealthySchool.com.
- Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
- GreenHeart Education. (2010). “The Value of School Gardens.” Greenhearted.org.
- LifeCycles. (n.d.). “Questions About School Gardens.” LifeCyclesProject.ca.
- United States Botanic Garden and Chicago Botanic Garden School Garden Wizard. (n.d.). “Learn in the Garden.” SchoolGardenWizard.org.