Why a School Garden?
A school garden encourages kids to work together, not only through gardening tasks like weeding and watering, but also through observation and problem solving techniques. Kids can become scientists, learning all about things like ecology, weather, plants, and nutrition. School gardens can help children comprehend and improve maths skills through gardening projects that cover anything from geometry and counting to collecting, organising, and displaying data.
School gardens are great for teaching kids about history, how people lived before us, and where many things originated. A school garden can help improve vocabulary using reading and writing projects. It’s also a good tool for learning about cause and effect.
Starting a School Garden
Get with other teachers and gather a support team, involving not only school officials, but also local organisations, parents and children. Call on local gardeners to help you get started, once permission is granted by the school. The garden site should be close to the classroom with an ample water supply. It should also receive at least six hours of sun each day. With this in mind, avoid heavily shaded areas or nearby trees.
Since some schools have limited space, especially those in the city, raised beds or containers offer a great solution. Many types of containers work well as long as they provide drainage. Let kids explore various recycled containers such as milk cartons, plastic bowls or bottles, and even old shoes. Encourage them to bring something from home.
Whether it’s located on the class windowsill or on schools grounds, the size of the garden and what is grown should be left up to you and the kids. However, be sure to design a school garden that meets everyone’s needs and adheres to both the school’s guidelines as well as its local resources.
Of course, you’ll need tools. Basic gardening tools include spades, hoes, rakes, small hand tools (like trowels), watering cans, and perhaps even a wheelbarrow. If the school does not have any of these, perhaps you can seek out a community organisation or local business that can donate them to the school. Otherwise, you will have to purchase them.
Ideas for School Gardens
Soil is important. Encourage kids to research the best types of soil for growing different plants. Take kids on a plant and soil safari in the garden or on a nature trail. Divide them in groups and give each group a clear container or jar, magnifying glass, paper and pencils. Have them take turns observing the different plants and soil types. Encourage them to collect samples for further studying, recording all observations.
Teach them about the breakdown and recycling of organic materials with compost. Have them create and maintain their own compost pile, preferably near the garden and out of view from other areas. The compost bin should be placed on the bare soil or in a grassy area to encourage earthworm activity. Also, choose a site that is sunny for quicker decomposition. Use ordinary household materials, such as food scraps (no meat or bones), and garden waste. Encourage the kids to bring some of these from home as well.
When deciding what to grow, consider a theme for the school garden. For instance, an herb garden, vegetable garden, wildlife garden, alphabet garden, or whatever you can think of. This is also a great way to get kids interested and actively involved in the initial planning stages of the garden. Supply seed catalogues and other gardening resources and allow kids to research their plants.
Once you have determined where and what to grow, create a planting calendar and let kids draw pictures of the garden at various stages of development. Have them create plant labels for easy identification. When it comes to garden maintenance, plan class time for kids to tend to the garden and have them take turns.
Get your school growing. The educational benefits are endless. Kids will learn the ins and outs of plant growth and development and important social skills and history, along with improving vocabulary and maths. Even better, kids will learn about food and nutrition, something they can carry and use throughout their lifetime.
Did You Know?
School gardens can be used as fundraisers. Sell those extra plants and produce. Invite others to the school to purchase fresh produce and other plants to raise money for the school. Likewise, use some for making special school meals or send some home with the kids to share with family and friends.