School GardenPrint Page
School gardens are a fantastic way to transition from a more traditional classroom to an outdoor, experiential learning opportunity centered on student engagement and critical thinking. Students are able to physically connect with nutrition education, understand the process of growing healthy foods, and recognize environmental stewardship. A school garden can also be integrated into many subjects such as math, science, health, literacy and social studies.
A school garden takes some planning, but the effort is worth the reward. Here are some steps to start a school garden:
- Secure support from your school administration. Highlight the personal nutrition benefits and the crossover with various academic subjects.
- Form a garden planning committee. Recruit a small group of adult volunteers and older students to oversee garden activities. If you already have a school health team, form a garden subcommittee. Example questions your committee might consider include: Will every class have a plot? What seeds will each class plant? When will garden activities take place? How will teachers be involved? Will garden activities complement classroom lessons?
- Plan your harvest. Make a list of the different herbs, fruits and veggies you are interested in growing. Understand the unique needs of each plant to determine the amount of sunlight needed, type of soil and watering schedule. Consider growing a variety of plants that will compliment your environmental climate, growing goals and school garden location. This will set you up for success in the beginning when thinking about a location and what plants can be planted near one another. Need some ideas and you don’t want to wait for warmer weather to get started? Get a jump on the growing season by starting seedlings indoors and prepare your garden location now for a spring planting event with some of these indoor plants:
- Lettuce and other salad greens
- Identify a location for the garden.
- Outdoor Garden: Consider things like type of soil, access to sunlight, and weather conditions.
- Indoor Garden: Take time to notice where the sunlight comes in the room where you are wanting to house your container garden. Pay attention to the timing and duration of the sunlight. Keep a log over a week or month and have children determine the best space based on the data they collect. A windowsill is not necessarily the best place to grow seedlings because of the temperature fluctuations. Most seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65-75°F with 12-16 hours of light. Need additional light? Use standard “cool white” fluorescent tubes. Hang lights 2-4 inches above your seedlings for optimal growing conditions.
- If indoors, consider starting with a container garden. Container gardening is a style of gardening that uses various types of containers to grow florals, produce, herbs and more. It’s a great way to leverage existing space and upcycled materials in a fun and creative way, while bringing a little bit of nature inside. This is a great option if there is not space available or if a “start small” approach is needed. Container gardens can be as creative or unique as you would like them. Think about the spaces you have available and then have fun with it! You can even create labels by writing the name of the plant on a popsicle stick and inserting it into your planters.
- Windowsill planters or pots – practical and easy to move around.
- Mason jars or other glass containers – allow you to see the roots as your plants grow.
- Upcycled materials (milk cartons, tin cans, empty baby food jars, egg cartons, yogurt containers, etc.) – helps to show kindness to the earth by reusing something on hand. Here’s a fun example using upcycled juice cartons!
- Make a list of materials you will need. Choose your seeds and select the soil. Container gardens thrive best with lightweight organic potting soil. Create a gardener’s kit with all of the tools and resources in one handy place. Some things to include:
- Gardening gloves
- Hand trowels
- Small spading forks
- Small round points shovels
- Watering can
- Wooden stakes to label plants
- Budget for resources. There are many organizations that grant financial support for the investment of school gardens (like Action for Healthy Kids – Check out our grant opportunities).
- When ready, implement your plan! Check in regularly as a team to identify successes and challenges.
Engage your School Community with your School Garden
A school garden is also a great way to engage your school’s parents and families to be actively involved in your wellness initiatives.
- Invite parents and family members to help plan the garden – organize a planning committee with staff, teachers, students, parents and community members that have an interest or expertise in gardening, or host a brainstorming session with the broader school community to get more ideas on the garden design.
- Schedule regular garden work days and send out invites to your school community well in advance. Use these days to plant your garden each year, maintain it as it grows and harvest in the fall. You can also use these days to expand the garden as you’re able by building new garden beds, fencing or a tool shed. Garden work days can also be a great way to celebrate Every Kid Healthy Week!
- Ask families to donate or lend tools and equipment you’ll need to maintain the garden. Items like shovels, spades, rakes, pruning shears, water hoses and nozzles can be expensive to buy new so send the call out for any used items that are still in good shape and safe for student use.
- Consider ongoing volunteer needs you may have, like helping to manage the garden by watering and pruning or helping teach students good gardening practices during the school day. These could be great opportunities to get grandparents or stay-at-home moms and dads involved.
- Keep parents and families informed about your school garden and send home info sheets on the plants and veggies you’re growing, including recipe ideas and how they can grow their own at home. This will help those that may not be able to come into the school to volunteer stay engaged so they can be a part of the project, too!
Social Emotional Health Highlights
Self-Awareness: Harvesting fruits and veggies that children have worked so hard to grow is the perfect opportunity for students to celebrate the success of their own hard work. A school garden provides chances for children to be a part of something bigger than themselves and gain self-confidence and self-efficacy by recognizing their capacity to use their skills to achieve their goals. Students will develop a sense of ownership for their health when they experience growing their own food from seed to yum!
Responsible Decision Making: Growing veggies requires patience, evaluation, and reflection. Students can work together to problem solve and analyze solutions to assure that all of the plants in the garden reach their fullest potential. Gardens provide ample opportunities to teach children about responsibilities in care-taking and problem solving.
Involve as many students as possible in harvesting to experience the growing process from beginning to end. This can be challenging if crops are harvested in the summer – Consider planning a harvest celebration around back-to-school time or planting a fall or spring garden (when produce is ready to harvest during the school year).
Use your harvest to have a taste test!
Incorporate science concepts of plant biology or writing skills by having students write about the garden and the importance of good nutrition.
Strive to ensure that students are engaging with the garden at least twice per month, either through being out in the garden or garden-based lesson plans.
Utilize volunteers! Host a weekend volunteer event to help you get started. Invite school and community members to help construct planter beds, fill pots with soil and plant seeds. Have volunteers assist with garden maintenance during the summer – weeding, watering and trimming.
Determine early on if you plan to transplant spouts outside. Container gardens are great for getting plants started indoor, especially during the off season. About 2 weeks before transplanting the seedlings outdoors, move them outside for increasingly longer periods each day. Prepare the garden with plenty of compost and soil, and transplant the seedlings to the garden on a cloudy day or late afternoon. Water appropriately and enjoy!
Plant with love. While planting, encourage students to be more aware of the present moment and their surroundings. Encourage them to connect with the earth and the practice of gardening as a way to feel calm and in tune with their feelings. Discuss the process of going from a seedling to a fresh cucumber or juicy tomato and all the steps that took place during that journey.
Students with disabilities can participate in the school garden project in some way, since there are many different types of tasks and various ways to adapt to accomplish them. They may need extra direction to follow the plan or accommodations for lifting lesser amounts of weight or digging with trowels rather than shovels, filling buckets rather than carrying them. They can help with placing strings for boundaries and rows of plants; fill pots with soil, pull weeds with direction. They may work with other students or adult leaders who can help them focus and follow directions as needed. Students who have disabilities that involve following directions, self-management, or personal behavior anomalies must be supervised when using equipment or materials with safety risks.
Whether your garden is growing alongside the playground or a classroom windowsill, gardening is a great place to practice mindfulness and encourage creative thinking. Invite children to use their senses to experience the different textures, smells and sounds. Remind children that gardening can sometimes be tough and getting the balance just right can take time. Help them experience the whole process and celebrate the small achievements along the way.
Be mindful of the plants needs! Just like us, not enough or too much water can make as feel a little off. Small containers can be overwatered and can dry out over long breaks or weekends. Similarly, if the plants are receiving too much or too little sunshine, they may not thrive.