Classroom gardens, whether outside or indoors, provide the perfect opportunity to bring life to lessons in science, history, math -- even poetry.
Few kids can resist the magic of making something grow -- digging in the dirt, planting tiny seeds and, with a little sun and water, voila! Life spurts forth, rewarding gardeners with a surge of pride for playing a key role in nature's miracle.
It's an irresistible combination and a terrific opportunity to teach lessons across the curriculum, from the obvious, such as science, to the less apparent, like literature.
In Berkeley, Calif., students at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School devote a section of their garden to "lost crops of the Incas" as part of a social studies lesson. In Melbourne, Fla., elementary school students sell their hydroponically grown produce to a local supermarket, learning lessons in economics as well as botany. Classroom gardens also can incorporate:
You name it, the opportunity is there, as unlimited as your creativity and imagination.
But first, you need a garden.
Teachers in every climate across the nation have turned schoolyard plots, trash-filled lots, and simple clay pots into thriving gardens. From bean sprouts cultivated in wet paper towels to wildlife habitats complete with egg-laying snakes and frog populations, schools recognize the value of the active, hands-on approach to learning that gardens provide.
To start a garden at your school, all you need are the basics: fresh water, soil and adequate light, whether it be sunlight or artificial grow lights. Gardens can be grown in a sunny window, in containers, or on any plot of land; some "gardens" even grow in the cracks of concrete! (Loosen the dirt with the edge of a trowel or knife and drop in the seeds of non-fussy flowers, like cosmos or zinnias.) If you prefer a conventional outdoor garden, Texas A & M University's horticulture program offers a Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a School Garden.
Many sources also are available on indoor gardening (see below), including growing plants from vegetable scraps and seeds saved from foods we eat. Here's a fun classroom project from My First Garden, by Marc Brown, author of the beloved Arthur books, that can be woven into a history lesson on U.S. presidents:
Presidential Peanut Plant
You can grow peanuts anytime, of course, but if you want to grow presidential peanuts, start them on George Washington's birthday (Feb. 22), plant them outside on John F. Kennedy's birthday (May 29), and harvest them by Jimmy Carter's birthday (Oct. 1).
What You Need:
1 jelly jar
6-8 shelled, roasted peanuts
6- to 12-inch pot with a hole in the bottom
What You Do:
1. Wet the paper towel and put it in the jelly jar.
2. Tuck the peanuts around the edge between the glass and the paper towel. Don't let them sit on the bottom.
3. Keep the paper towel moist. You should see roots in two days.
4. When the strongest plant is three inches tall, carefully move it to a small pot filled with potting soil. Hold the plant by the leaves, not the stem.
5. Make a hole in the soil. Gently lower the roots into the hole and cover them with soil.
6. Place the pot in a sunny window and keep the soil moist.
The peanuts grow under the soil, and should be ready to dig up in four months!
Why grow a garden? "Kids today are bombarded with a pop culture that teaches redemption through buying things," says Waters of Chez Panisse (and now Edible Schoolyard!) fame in Sierra magazine (November/December 1997). "School gardens, on the other hand, teach redemption through a deep appreciation for the real, the authentic, the lasting, the things that money can't buy: the things that matter most of all if we are going to lead sane, healthy and sustainable lives."
Perhaps the best reason of all to dig in! Happy gardening!
Article by Colleen Newquist
Copyright © 2003 Education World
GARDENING BOOKS OF INTEREST
Sponsored by the National Gardening Association, this site features resources for educators including Articles; thematic explorations on topics such as Designing Gardens and Habitats, Finding Funds and Support, and Growing a School Business Garden; a resource library; a school garden registry; grant listings; and more.
An introduction to the many ways children can interact with plants and the outdoors.
Gardening With Children
Useful resources and tips for introducing gardening to kids.
This site includes a step-by-step guide to creating gardens.
Last updated 04/16/2012