Benefits of School Gardening
The past decade has witnessed substantial growth in the number of school gardens
in the U.S., led by the state of California which has called for a garden in every
school. In the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, including Hillsborough, Pinellas, and
Pasco counties, it is unclear exactly how many school gardens exist at the present
time, but there does seem to be a trend toward developing new school gardens. Many
schools have become aware of the multiple benefits of school gardening for students,
teachers, schools, and communities.
Benefits of School Gardening for Students
1) Educational benefits
Gardening offers hands-on, experiential learning opportunities in a wide array of
disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, language arts (e.g.,
through garden journaling), visual arts (e.g., through garden design and decoration),
and nutrition. With recent concern over relatively weak science and math skills
among American children, the need for innovation in science and math teaching is
apparent. There is mounting evidence that students who participate in school gardening
score significantly higher on standardized science achievement tests (Klemmer, et.al.
2005). Further research along these lines can be found at
Cornell University’s Garden Based Learning website and at
the California School Garden Network.
2) Environmental stewardship and connection with nature
Richard Louv’s 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature
deficit disorder is a call to action. A close connection with nature can be therapeutic
in addressing attention deficit disorders and other problems faced by so many children
today. Locally, Dr. Peter Gorski, chief pediatrician at the Children’s Board of
Hillsborough County, has recently affirmed the need to: “reverse the dangerous disconnection
between children and nature – dangerous for children’s health, for their growth
and development and for their opportunities, over time, to preserve a healthy society.”
By deepening children’s sense of connection with nature, school gardening can inspire
environmental stewardship. When children learn about water and energy cycles, the
food chain, and the peculiar needs of individual species, and when they feel a sense
of connection to a certain species or individual plant, they have a reason to care
about all the forces that impact that plant’s future. A garden offers many occasions
for achieving insight into the long-term human impact on the natural environment.
From the water shortage to the over-use of pesticides, children who engage in gardening
have first-hand opportunities to observe the importance of conservation and intelligent
allocation of resources.
3) Lifestyle and Nutrition
With children’s nutrition under assault by fast food and junk food industries, and
with only about one-fourth of Florida adults eating recommended quantities of fruits
and vegetables, it is no wonder that nearly one-third of Florida’s 10-17 year olds
are reported to be overweight or at risk for being overweight. School gardening
offers children opportunities for outdoor exercise while teaching them a useful
skill. Gardens containing fruit and vegetables can also help to revise attitudes
about particular foods. There is mounting evidence that active learning in less
structured, participatory spaces like gardens is more likely to transform children’s
food attitudes and habits, and that school gardening, especially when combined with
a healthy lunch program or nutritional education, encourages more healthful food
choices. Students are more likely to try eating vegetables they have grown themselves
and to ask for them at home (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr 2002). When students take
their preferences back to their families, they can help to improve family consumption
Benefits of School Gardening for Teachers, Schools and Communities
1) Active learning and student engagement
Gardening activities can help to engage students in learning in a way that is more
difficult in the classroom. Gardening allows surprises to arise when insects land
in the vicinity, when plants are afflicted with mites or fungus, or when the weather
surprises everyone and disrupts the plan for the day, for example. These surprises
show that nature is in control and they give students immediate and personal reasons
for wanting to know the answers to pressing questions.
2) Student attention and class management
Because of the engaging nature of garden learning, students with attention deficit
and other disorders often find it more suitable for their learning styles. Teachers
report fewer discipline problems when science is taught in this sort of experiential
manner, for example. Teachers develop useful concepts, such as “invisible walls,”
to create a sense of boundaries when learning in the garden.
3) Teachers as gardeners
Teachers themselves also learn useful gardening skills when they incorporate gardening
into their lesson plans. These skills can be transferred into their own homes and
social networks, thereby benefiting their own health and the health of their families.
4) Connection to history and the community
Gardening ties students to the social and material history of the land. Gardeners
from the community can be brought in to demonstrate local, traditional gardening
techniques and the traditional uses of particular plants. Gardening offers many
opportunities for connecting with local history by incorporating native plants and
plants grown during specific historical eras.
5) School pride
Like a team sport or mascot, gardening can offer a symbolic locus of school pride
and spirit. Gardening offers schools a way of helping children to identify with
their school and to feel proud of their own individual contribution. Children know
which plants they helped to grow, and they feel proud of them. This can improve
school spirit and children’s attitudes toward the school.
California School Garden Network
Cornell University’s Garden Based Learning
Dobbs, Kathleen, Diane Relf, and Alan McDaniel. 1998. Survey on the needs of elementary
education teachers to enhance the use of horticulture or gardening in the classroom.
Florida Department of Health
Florida Farm Bureau
Kiefer, Joseph, & Kemple, Martin. (1999). Stories from our common roots: Strategies
for building an ecologically sustainable way of learning. In G.A. Smith & D.R. Williams
(Eds.), Ecological education in action. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Klemmer, C.D., Waliczek, T.M. & Zajicek, J.M. (2005). Growing Minds: The Effect
of a School Gardening Program on the Science Achievement of Elementary Students.
HortTechnology. 15(3): 448-452.)
Louv, Richard (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature
deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
National Survey of Children’s Health
Ozer, Emily (2006). The Effects of School Gardens on Students and Schools: Conceptualization
and Considerations for Maximizing Healthy Development. Health Education and Behavior 7.
Morris, Jennifer, & Zidenberg-Cherr, Sheri. (2002). Garden-enhanced nutrition curriculum
improves fourth-grade school children’s knowledge of nutrition and preferences for
some vegetables. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102(1), 9.
Skelly, Sonja and Jennifer Bradley. (2000). The importance of school gardens as
perceived by Florida elementary school teachers. HortTechnology 10(1):229-231.