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Gardening Activities for Students

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:

  • Math -- by figuring plot size according to the amount of earth needed for each plant, for example.
  • Art -- ah, Monet! But that's not all: natural dyes and pigments have been the starting point for much great art, from textiles to canvas.
  • Health -- the aforementioned Berkeley students turned their Edible Schoolyard project into nutritious gourmet lunchtime fare, thanks to the involvement of Alice Waters, founder of the famed Chez Panisse restaurant.
  • Reading -- gardens flourish at the core of numerous books, such as Takiya and Thunderheart's Life Garden by Victor J. McGuire, a multicultural story about community gardening; Anna's Garden Songs by Mary Q. Steele and Lena Anderson, a collection of 14 poems about the beet, potato, radish, onion and other garden plants; and Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic tale, The Secret Garden. (For more ideas, see Gardening Books for Children.)

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.

Regardless of the size and purpose of your plot, the National Gardening Association presents bushels of information on its Kids & Classrooms site.

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:
paper towel
1 jelly jar
6-8 shelled, roasted peanuts
6- to 12-inch pot with a hole in the bottom
potting soil

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
Education World®
Copyright © 2003 Education World




  • Gardening Books for Children A list from the folks at the Texas A & M University Horticulture Program.
  • Success With School Gardens: How to Create a Learning Oasis in the Desert by Linda Guy, Cathy Cromell, Lucy Bradley (Arizona Master Gardener Press, 1996; 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040-8807).
  • The Victory Garden Kids' Book by Marjorie Waters (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988).
  • Your First Garden Book by Marc Brown (Little, Brown and Company, 1981).
  • My Garden Companion: A Complete Guide for the Beginner by Jamie Jobb (Sierra Club Books/Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977).
  • Gardens from Garbage: How to Grow Indoor Plants from Recycled Kitchen Scraps by Judith F. Handelsman (The Millbrook Press, 1993).
  • Vegetables in a Pot by D.J. Herda (Julian Messner, 1979).
  • How to Grow a Jelly Glass Farm by Kathy Mandry and Joe Toto (Pantheon Books, 1974).




  • The Edible School Yard, 1781 Rose St., Berkeley, CA 94703; phone (510) 558-1335.
  • Green Teacher magazine, "Transforming School Grounds" issue (#47). Send request with $6 to Green Teacher, P.O. Box 1431, Lewiston, NY 14092.
  • "Plant Fun: Crafts and Games for All Ages." Send request with $6 to IFAS Publications, University of Florida, P.O. Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611; phone 800-226-1764.
  • Homes for Wildlife: A Planning Guide for Habitat Enhancement on School Grounds. Send $10 with request to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Project HOME, 2 Haven Dr., Concord, NH 03301.
  • Wild School Sites: A Guide to Preparing Habitat Improvement Projects on School Grounds. Send $8 with request to Project Wild, 5430 Grosvenor Land, Suite 230, Bethesda, MD 20814-2142; phone (301) 527-8900; e-mail [email protected].



Updated: 04/12/2015