Many schools are now developing gardens in schools. These gardening areas vary in size, shape and plantings, but they all have something in common. They are used to teach something to students, that the students can't get from the average classroom. Often the gardens are used to teach life cycles of plants, or to teach about a specific type of plant. Sometimes teachers will use the gardens to teach about an ecosystem area, such as the Mojave Desert, what plants might grow there, some of the characteristics or specific needs of desert plants, or other information about the flora and fauna of the desert.
Teachers are learning while in the garden too. They are learning how to schedule plantings that coincide with our weather so that they can be successful in completing their project while students are still in school. School gardens give the class a unique opportunity to see how things really happen outside. This works much better than just watching a video or reading about it in a book. Students can do the planting, watch the progress, and even taste the fruits of their labor!
Teachers can use gardens to make additional connections as well. Learning about composting and using earthworms can allow teachers and students to make many extensions to the learning in the garden. Learning about arthropods (bugs!), decomposition, soil, water conservation, weather, pollination and many other important subjects can also be enhanced by taking students outside to learn.
With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) coming to the forefront of our educational system, gardens can play a crucial role in allowing students to have firsthand understanding of these important concepts. Other subjects, such as Geography, History, Art and Music all have a place in the garden as well. In fact, there are very few subjects that don't easily connect with a school garden. A Garden can also offer teachers a healthy physical activity for their students, while helping them to engage more deeply into a subject that was started in the classroom.
How to start a School Garden
- Form a garden committee. Start with at least 3 teachers and one or more administrators. This is crucial because without commitment from teachers and administrators, the garden will have a short life. The garden needs more than one teacher or volunteer to care for it.
- Define the purpose of your garden. What needs can your garden fill? Where will funding come from?
- Lay out your objectives. Who will be gardening, and what will they be learning?
- Define a year-round plan for your garden. What will happen to your garden during the summer? What will you be planting?
- Choose a permanent site, and plan your garden spot. Full sunlight, good drainage and close proximity to water are essential to any garden.
- Build your garden. Let everyone help and benefit!
- Learn as you grow and maintain your garden. Learning to maintain your own garden is also essential. This is true for both your garden and your knowledge base to grow. If volunteers or outside agencies are doing all the work, you will not learn to care about, or how to properly care for your garden.
For more information, email or call Karyn Johnson, school gardens coordinator at 702-257-5523.