George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Boy wearing gardening gloves working with starter plants

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.

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.

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Kristin Stayer's picture
Kristin Stayer
Out-of-School Time Professional, Community Developer, Youth Development Advocate, Blog Manger

Yes, Melanie! There are so many delicious, positive benefits!

rkw53's picture

My favorite aspect of school gardens is their ability to be used as a lens for educators to focus on a wide range of topics. Teachers don't have to stop at the classroom subjects. Aside from math or science, teachers can bring in the soft skills or '21st-century skills such as "curiosity, flexibility, open-mindedness, informed skepticism, creativity, and critical thinking."' These are lifelong lessons that can be taught in the garden for use inside and outside of the classroom.
Additionally, the change in environment can lead students on an adventure of discovery. They may find that they learn better outside the classroom or find the environment more comforting to make friends and solve problems in. A garden is a prefect example of putting the skills they are learning into use to solve real problems they will encounter in life.
This doesn't have to stop with gardens, though. We can find a ton of different ways to teach classroom subjects on fieldtrips and in projects taking place outside the traditional classroom. I remember building a catapult with a group in high school. I learned about physics and had to use math to calculate the dimensions to build the catapult. At the end we calculated the velocity and angles of our projectiles. I also learned about communicating and working as part of a group. Although, this isn't necessarily the same as a garden, I was applying skills I learned in the classroom to complete a project. These skills still come in handy today.
I'm totally in support of learning outside the classroom in a real world setting.

KatePf's picture

I am the director of the BUGS (better understanding garden science) program at Brittan Acres Elementary School in San Carlos, CA. We have had a school garden program for 20 years that is run by teams of three parents in each classroom. The class is divided into three rotating small groups for two hands-on science stations and one gardening station. BUGS lessons happen once a month throughout the school year, and we are fortunate to have the support of the administration, teachers, PTA, and Rotary club for funding. We are currently updating our curriculum to incorporate the Next Generation Science Standards. Our lessons and curriculum are free on the web and fully available for use by other schools at

Anna Cone's picture

Yes! I love using the garden as a tool for understanding the world around us. This article does a great job of expressing the different angles that can be taken with garden education. All too often schools shut down students' requests for gardens because of the closed minded notion that gardens are only for food production. Or, if the garden is okayed by school administration, it ends up being completely disconnected from the lessons taught in school. When I was in high school, our garden was considered an "environmental club project" and was never used as a living classroom by teachers despite our encouragement. As a garden educator myself, I know the garden has so much to offer! I'm excited to see more teachers use gardens as "places where students can connect with global issues through the natural resources of earth," as written so elegantly in this article.

CindyK's picture
A Parent Who Loves Gardening

I believe schools should focus their efforts on instituting more gardening activities for the children. Gardening is a fun activity that helps the students relate to the social and material history of the land. It also encourages the community to do their part to share in the school effort by demonstrating local and traditional gardening techniques with respect to growing particular plants. In short, gardening allows the students to connect with the local history by incorporating native plants and plants grown during certain historical eras. It is a means that offers a way to encourage school pride and spirit.

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