George Lucas Educational Foundation
Environmental Education

Garden-Based Learning

School and community gardens can be used for academic enrichment, where students can learn about nutrition, food security, and ecological sustainability.

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Schools and community gardens are living classrooms with great potential for learning. In How to Grow a School Garden, Arden Buck-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle cite the following:

Numerous studies point to school gardens as a means of improving academic achievement, promoting healthy lifestyles, demonstrating the principles of stewardship, encouraging community and social development, and instilling a sense of place.

In addition, gardens are places where students can connect with global issues through the natural resources of earth, advance community development efforts through neighborhood beautification, and leave their green-print in our ecosystem. Gardens, and the people in the community near your garden, are an incredible asset to schools and out-of-school-time programs. Your garden doesn't have to fit one model. In fact, there are many models that your school or organization can follow.

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Below are practical, feasible ideas for you to begin growing these benefits in your community.

Academic Enrichment

A study from Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Learning Through the Garden, shows that gardens can function as living laboratories. Students who participate in gardening have a considerable increase in grade point average, utilize new learning styles, and develop their perspectives and ways of learning to incorporate critical 21st-century skills such as "curiosity, flexibility, open-mindedness, informed skepticism, creativity, and critical thinking."

Here are some activity examples that could be used in a gardening unit:

Food and Nutrition/Food Security

Access to food and nutrition unfortunately does not come readily to everyone, and millions of children and adults stare into the face of food insecurity every year. According to Feeding America, giving children proper nutrition and access to food can impact "physical and mental health, academic achievement, and future economic prosperity." Gardens can be an integral part of providing nutrition to children.

Consider these activities:

Ecological Sustainability

Composting and waste reduction teach students sustainable practices. Not only does composting add nutrients to the soil, decomposition is also a large part of science curriculums.

Here are a few sample activities:

  • Plant fruit trees around your neighborhood in order to contribute to your community's nutrition and air quality.
  • The American Community Garden Association has an excellent series with free environmental education lesson plans.
  • San Francisco involved students in environmental stewardship through their Food to Flowers! program. Think about your program's meals or snacks and how you can join the movement to protect the environment.

If such a small act of planting trees on the corner can make a dent in the sustainability of a neighborhood, think about the impact that trees and gardens across the world can make on our global food system! Visit the Green Education Foundation for garden plans and topics such as water conservation and recycling.

Program Management

There is no shortage of great resources available for your garden. Here are just a few starting places:

Collaborating with math, science, and art teachers can bring additional ideas for using gardens as hands-on reinforcement of what they are teaching in those classrooms. Field trips to community gardens and farmers' markets can inspire young minds. If you are in a cold climate, consider learning about greenhouses and hydroponics. These tools allow farmers to simulate a warmer climate and grow various fruits and vegetables all year long. Gardens -- inside or outside, big or small -- support academic and 21st-century skills development.

Does your school have a garden program? In the comments section below, please tell us about how it works.