A school garden is not a new idea but it has a real fresh appeal in the 21st century as parents and teachers focus on trying to get their kids out from behind screens.
Technology is a great thing but it is encroaching on childhood like never before. The simple concept of a school garden has never been as important to winkle kids out from behind their tablets and Smartphones. But there is actually much more potential with a school garden than simple fresh air and exercise.
What impact can a school garden have on a class of kids?
- It’s getting them outside in the fresh air, whatever the weather. It is proven that exercise stimulates brain activity and learning – education doesn’t just have to be for the classroom
- Children can learn about a whole raft of different topics many of which are relevant to study subjects and the curriculum – the environment and weather patterns, encouraging rare species of plants and insects, how things grow, supporting endangered flora and fauna, logic and math, art and color
- Activities in the garden encourage team working and will often bring to the fore children who are overshadowed in the classroom and may struggle with the conventional learning environment
So apart from the fun of growing, cultivating and harvesting which youngsters adore, what type of activities can be built into the learning calendar which incorporates the school garden into weekly study activities and learning?
A seasonal pattern is a nice one to follow as this dovetails nicely with the way terms fall and also other events that may be going on at school.
Research spring flowers with the children which they can plant and nurture. Broaden the debate into the wider context of fruit, vegetables and farming so the children can understand where their food comes and which crops grow in the spring.
Study a topic on which flowers could be chosen to encourage insects and why biodiversity is so important. The children can learn about why uncultivated areas are just as important for insect life as pretty flowers. Creating rockeries, log piles, and beetle dumps and waiting to see what may be discovered will really capture their imagination.
Plant a section of vegetables and fruits as well as flowers. Working out planting distances and following the instructions on seed packets teach good social skills, team working and math also comes into play. In class, use art sessions to explore the colors of the different flowers and fruits the children have grown. Create some tasty recipe ideas ready for when the produce is ripe. Broaden the debate into other fruits and vegetables which grow in different climates and other countries, a fun way to teach geography.
Study the history of flowers, what they mean to different cultures, whether they are edible or not. Pick some flowers and press them, great for card-making for parents or to use in a collage to decorate the classroom.
Discuss the importance of flowers to bees and butterflies. Painting different butterflies offers a great opportunity to experiment with different colors.
Start a compost heap and a worm bin – children adore this or find them repulsive in equal measure but they never fail to create a reaction. Show the children how to plant carrot seeds in egg cartons – not all children in the class will have a garden at home. Encourage their new-found interest in planting with little pots which can grow on a window ledge in an apartment block
Make a pumpkin patch and sit in there and read stories about the folklore of Halloween and the history of how pumpkins became an integral part of this tradition with the settlers who came from Ireland.
Discover pumpkin recipes and make some in class. Learn more about the family which pumpkins come from – they are a member of the gourd family so are closely related to cantaloupe, cucumbers, honeydew melons and zucchini. Talk about healthy nutrition and why a balanced diet is so important for growth and development.
Carve pumpkins (carefully), create a cut-out border of orange pumpkins to decorate the classroom.
Winter is a time to plan the planting for next year and for the children to understand the seasonal calendar of dormancy and growth. The garden can be tidied and the compost bin filled with weeds and leaves. In the summer, seeds harvested from flowers like sunflowers and put into pretty packets make lovely Christmas presents for the children to give out. Plant bulbs ready for next year and encourage the children to plan what should grow and where.
There are lots of outdoor activities that can ensure the children still spend time outside in the garden. Why not lay a path with mosaics – glass, beads and stones – the children can make their own designs, even write their names, all set into concrete tiles.
There are lots of lovely Christmas activities which can be designed around the garden. Ripen green tomatoes indoors and make chutney. Decorate plant pots and plant hyacinth bulbs ready for the Christmas fair. Buy in some plain terracotta wellington boots and get the children to paint and plant them out or fill them with presents.
The potential of a school garden is pretty much limitless and offers the opportunity to explore numerous different subjects which can all be either taught in the great outdoors or taken inside into the classroom.
The garden can also be a place of peace, a sanctuary for children and something for which they have to learn to be responsible. Assigning garden duties is surprisingly popular amongst kids and teaches social responsibility as well as teamwork. A garden embraces all children whatever their stage of learning and is particularly beneficial to those who have educational or social difficulties. The garden is wholly interactive without a screen in sight and a tool for learning and life skills, plus it produces tangible results – flowers, fruit and vegetables. A school garden is the ultimate green classroom.
Further Reading and Resources
Here are some useful guides for ideas for things to do with kids in the garden:
18 ideas to bring gardening into the classroom: https://www.weareteachers.com/classroom-gardening-ideas/
Preschool garden lesson plan ideas: https://growing-minds.org/tag/preschool+lesson-plan/
Links to ideas and curricula for school gardens: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/kindergarden/CHILD/SCHOOL/CURRIC.HTM
Designing a School Garden: https://kidsgardening.org/designing-a-school-garden/