Garden of Learning
Our guiding philosophy
Garden-based learning can spark a child’s imagination by making
academic topics leap to life. It can also provide a subtle and profound
understanding about nature and our place in the world. We want our children
to be curious, enthusiastic life-long learners, and garden-based learning
is an important means to that end. Each child is encouraged to think of
the school garden as his or hers, and to view it as a special place of
A couple of our greatest
learning opportunities provided by the Garden of Learning program:
Whether we are studying science, language or math in the garden, nutrition
themes are always woven into our program. When students grow fruits and
vegetables themselves, they are much more likely to enjoy eating them.
begin the school year by harvesting the autumn crop (planted earlier,
in spring) and using the crops in lessons. Then they plant their winter
crop. They nurture the garden throughout the school year until it’s
time to harvest in spring. Students gain a keen appreciation for where
their food comes from; and children come to understand that they need
proper nutrition and care themselves, just as their plants do. And when
they feast upon the food they grew, they also learn that they actually
do like fruits and vegetables.
Environmental studies is another subject that is always woven into our
program. For example, at the beginning of the school year our students
rebuild the contents of their huge “Worm Motel.” Then for
the remainder of the school year they recycle lunch and garden scraps
by feeding the worms. In the middle of winter, students “check out”
worms from the Worm Motel; they love to study the worms, learning about
their physical anatomy and about their role in enriching the soil. Then
at the end of the school year, before students replant the garden to which
they will return in autumn, they remove castings from the Worm Motel and
dig them into our garden plots to enrich the soil. Students sell containers
of worms and bags of castings at their Farmers Market. In other activities,
they build compost piles, observing and comparing the rate of decomposition
for various materials. They raise butterflies, ladybugs and (unintentionally)
snails. They learn about insects, and which ones are beneficial to the
garden. These and other activities teach them to observe as scientists,
while learning about humanity’s relationship to the earth.
Garden of Learning curriculum addresses all subject matter. Yet every
time they visit the garden, students are also absorbing lessons that we
aren’t formally teaching them. For example, they learn about life
cycles. They learn about recycling. They learn to observe. They learn
where wholesome food comes from. They learn about teamwork. They learn
about problem solving. They learn that hard work pays off, and that they
have the power to create something big and wonderful. They learn that
there is a balance in nature; that all living things are interdependent
and that they have a responsibility to the environment. They learn these
things and much more.
Best learning outcomes of a Garden of Learning
Experiential learning. Whatever the subject, it comes to life in the hands-on
environment of a school garden.
Cause-and-effect. Students come to see the relationship between effort
and reward. The harder they work, the more beautiful is their garden.
They also get to see that problems can be solved with perseverance; if
a snowfall comes and destroys your lettuce, that’s not a permanent
failure; you rip it out, put it in the compost bin and plant again, perhaps
with more mulch this time.
Nurturing. Over the last decade, we have found that sometimes the most
troubled children are the ones who find the most solace, the greatest
inspiration, in the garden. Often times, those students who really cannot
sit still and get through their work in class are completely engaged in
the garden, focusing both on their tasks and the natural world around
them. It is a wonderful thing to watch a child who suffers from a lack
of focus and a tendency to disrupt in the classroom go outside to the
garden and work with focus and enthusiasm. It is as if by tending and
caring for a tiny plant, they themselves are nurtured.
Other important outcomes
of a Garden of Learning program:
Parent involvement. Garden of Learning not only encourages parent volunteerism,
it depends upon it. Garden Parents work directly with children in the
garden, while also playing a key role in setting up activities and lesson
plans for teachers in advance. And in many Garden of Learning schools,
they do the big jobs in coordinating the program, such as communication,
organization of maintenance and fund-raising efforts, and procurement
and distribution of materials. Too often, schools encourage parents to
volunteer, but then lack a solid, tangible method for managing parent
participation. Garden of Learning ensures that parent volunteers will
be put to good use. We find that Garden Parents return year after year,
participating for the duration of their children’s time at a school.
And we even have some who continue to volunteer after their own children
have moved on to higher grades. That’s how gratifying the experience
Community spirit. These gardens have a unifying effect between elementary
schools and the communities they serve. Imagine the buzz in a community
when, through a garden-based learning program, they see local school children
release hundreds of butterflies into the sky on television, or they read
about the children selling the yield of their garden at their own Farmer’s
Market, or creating beautiful murals inspired by what they have learned
in the garden. These kinds of public events help bring attention to the
garden program, and give the school an opportunity to explain to the community
the kind of learning that goes on in the garden every week. Schnell School’s
garden program was a big factor in Schnell being named as a national Blue
Ribbon school. Through these sorts of accomplishments, the esteem people
hold for their their neighborhood school rises exponentially.
Campus pride. A garden helps to beautify a campus, which makes students,
parents and staff feel better about their educational experience. More
subtly, perhaps, a school garden is a group endeavor. It unifies children
and adults around a common sense of achievement. The effects of this may
be subtle, but they are profound. Parents have often said to me that they
enrolled their children at Schnell School because of the garden program.
How basic education contributes
to Garden of Learning:
Garden of Learning takes the basic course work being taught in the classroom
and expounds upon it. Students reinforce their math lessons, for example,
by using the seeds of sunflowers they grew themselves to practice counting,
sorting, multiplying, dividing and estimating. They reinforce their writing
skills by keeping weekly garden journals, for instance, or by building
a scarecrow and then writing a story that imagines what might happen if
their scarecrow came to life and followed them back into the classroom.
They learn about the scientific method in class, and then put it to use
in a garden exercise that introduces them to the concept of a food chain.
Basic education provides many of the themes for activities that take place
in the garden.
How Garden of Learning
contributes to basic education:
Garden-based learning brings basic education to life — in vivid
Some final thoughts:
A really good garden program can benefit the children who participate
in a lot of ways: It can foster a sense of ownership and pride in their
school. It can provide a focus for learning that engages all of a child’s
learning styles. It sparks their imaginations, and gives them practical
applications for what they can learn in the classroom. It can help develop
a true cooperative spirit as children work together toward a common goal.
They are taught the value of effort, discipline and team work. They learn
that private people must form a community to care for public resources.
They learn that no failures are permanent; if a crop fails you rip it
out and plant again. They learn about nutrition and where their food comes
from, and their roles as stewards. When they raise and sell a crop, they
see how the economy works. They learn to focus on a task until it is complete,
and to have pride in their accomplishments. And for certain children,
it can provide a much-needed understanding of what nurturing means; for
some it seems that in the process of protecting and nurturing a garden,
they are themselves nurtured.
More and more educators are coming to understand just how wonderful —
and important — a school garden can be. I believe with proper coordination
and planning, outstanding school garden programs can be developed and
sustained to become a long-term part of a school’s culture.
In this age of fast-moving technology and virtual knowledge, kids need
to get their hands in the dirt. They need to be grounded, you might say,
and taught the ways of nature. Regular work in their own garden can provide
a respite from the hubbub of busy school life, allowing children to focus
on an ancient human task in a smaller, quieter setting. It provides children
with a profound and lasting sense of the majesty of nature — and
in understanding that, a reverence for the sanctity of life.
A Word From Kelli
School gardens are a wonderful and important way to
educate our children and now in our busy fast-paced world more than ever
they can have a profound effect on our children's lives.
I know this in my heart----and because you’re
reading this I think you know it too.
As much as I know that school garden can be wonderful
I also know they can be tricky-------downright difficult.
It isn’t as easy as planting petunias. It isn’t
an easy thing to do. But it is so---so---- worth doing.
Garden of Learning helps elementary schools establish sustainable school
garden programs. We provide schools with a detailed system for organizing
and operating a school wide garden and a curriculum.
Once your program is up and running, each school is
able to put it’s own twist on the program. The key is to provide
a structure, a framework that is sustainable.
The most important lesson learned when beginning a
school garden program is that having a system for organizing it is as
important as the soil, water and sunshine will be to your plants.
With several hundred different grade level students
visiting the garden each week to participate in a standards based lesson
plan. Running a school-wide garden program can be very complex.
Who will be in charge of organizing all this? Will
teachers play a role in organizing all this? Can they? Should they? Will
they have the time? Will parents play a large role? Is there a way to
train and direct them?
Who will see to it that the right crops are planted
at the right times? Who will fix the sprinklers when they break? And they
will break when 500 students go traipsing in the beds each week.
Who will get materials? Your need for materials doesn’t
stop once you’ve got your shovels... It’s really just beginning.
Who will be in charge of getting soil amendments? Seeds and plants? What
about instructional aids? Who will coordinate those? Who will call the
shots when the weather doesn’t cooperate?
Who will choose the lessons? How will you see to it
that good academic lessons are happening, but also that the needs of a
real working organic garden are being taken care of along with those academic
Who gets what space in the garden? What if everybody
wants their own space? Should you have one of those old-fashioned land
rushes, with teachers rushing in with their wagons to stake their homestead
claims like back in the days when they opened up the Oklahoma territory?
Who will take care of scheduling? How much of an operating
budget will you have? How will it be managed? How about fundraising? Where
will you get the money to run and grow your program?
A school garden program doesn’t run itself. It
isn’t enough to have great ideas for lesson plans...that’s
like having skin without a skeleton.
I know this sound overwhelming, but what Garden of
Learning has found is that it can be done--- and it’s worth doing.