We know that today’s children spend far less time outdoors than their parents and grandparents. Whether it is the lure of the TV screen or fear of neighborhood violence, kids are spending more of their waking hours between four walls than out in fresh air and sunshine. The truth is, children need to be outdoors and for more reasons than just to stretch their legs and play. When children are given opportunities to interact with the natural world, they are more likely to grow into caring, environmentally-conscious adults. Luckily, schools are beginning to recognize the benefits of taking instruction to the out-of-doors and nowhere is this more apparent than the school garden.
When we think of school gardens, the first things that often come to mind are farm to school and healthy eating programs. But school gardens hold so much more promise and opportunity. Unlike field work in a meadow or at a farm, a garden is what I like to call “domesticated nature.” It is a safe space where children can take risks, explore, and begin to develop an understanding of, and a relationship with, nature. Gardens are for children of all ages, and early experiences in school gardens play a role in developing a child’s ecological identity. Visionaries like Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and Charles Darwin spent extensive periods of time in nature as young children, experiencing the sights, sounds, textures, and patterns of the natural world. Through these experiences, they came to know nature at an authentic level and developed a lifelong bond with the natural world.
There is also a social and emotional component to time spent in school gardens. Sharing natural experiences with a teacher, parent, or caregiver helps children build healthy relationships with the significant adults in their lives. This extends to the living things in a garden, from chickens to the bees pollinating the plants. When children have opportunities to not just interact with animals, but to be caregivers for them (and plants too!), they learn responsibility, develop emotional connections, and find purpose in their actions.
This issue of GreenNotes explores just a few of the many ways that schools are using gardens as teaching tools. You will discover the origins (and passion!) of REAL School Gardens and how this program is making gardening accessible for all schools; learn how Common Ground’s School Garden Resource Center is preparing teachers to teach from the garden; and hear how installing a beekeeping system at one school is teaching students how bees play an important role as pollinators in gardens. We highlight two schools in the issue: the MUSE School in Calabasas, California shares how its Seed to Table Program is infusing garden education into every aspect of the school day, and Spring Harbor Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin describes how constructing a greenhouse has enabled the school to expand its garden-based learning opportunities. And, this issue of GreenNotes marks our first international article! FoodShare in Toronto, Ontario, Canada discusses how Stephen Ritz’s Green Bronx Machine inspired them to start their own school gardening program, the Green Food Machine.
School gardens are useful for more than just food production; they can teach natural history, science, and math and inspire poetry, art, and music. They can help students nurture the 5 Cs of 21st century learning while establishing a foundation for empathy and respect toward nature. Most importantly, they can help a child find his or her place as a citizen and member of the Earth community.
Happy International Schoolgrounds Month!