Gardening with Your Students

By growing a class or school garden you can teach students about the environment, the life cycle of a plant, and healthy eating.

By Wendy Haagenson

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Gardening with Your Students

Organic produce is becoming more readily available, farmer’s markets are springing up everywhere, and community gardens have been appearing in the most unlikely places. Many schools are starting their own gardens and are placing the control in their students’ hands. The results are astounding: students begin to take responsibility for their actions, gain hands-on experience with gardening, and even receive higher scores on standardized tests.

Take Responsibility for Your Actions

In an age in which many students spend more time in front of the television or computer than playing outside, having a connection with nature is increasingly important. Once students build a connection with the natural world around them, they are more likely to become more conscious of their choices and how their choices may affect the world that they live in. After all, if they choose not to be responsible for their garden and neglect to water it, there are inevitable consequences for this choice. This newfound responsibility for their actions can carry over into daily life and may even result in students taking more responsibility for their learning and their interactions with classmates.

Once students are more responsible for their actions, and have a deeper connection with nature, they are more likely to take an interest in the environment and what they can do to help preserve our planet. If you choose to create an organic garden, students can learn about how using natural compost instead of chemical based fertilizers can be better for the environment. The use of compost can also coincide with teaching the power of recycling since kitchen scraps move into a compost bin rather than taking up space in the trash can.

Eat What You Grow

Gardening with your class is a great way to introduce nutritional topics. In fact, for some students, gardening outside with their teacher and classmates might be their first experience with seeing where their food comes from. I can’t think of a better way to convince students to try a new fruit or vegetable than having them grow and care for it from the time it was a seedling. In my experience, even the most finicky eaters are more likely to try something new if they have already learned about it, handled it and nurtured it. At this point, you may also wish to introduce the food pyramid and how food is categorized. Encourage students to use higher level thinking skills by asking what characteristics make a fruit a fruit and a vegetable a vegetable. And where do tomatoes and avocados fit in? What about cucumbers? As always, make sure they can support their answer with logical reasons.

Observe the Complete Life Cycle of a Plant

We all learn best from hands-on experience. Therefore, one of the best ways to learn about the life cycle of a plant is to grow one. Students might keep an observational journal recording and measuring plant growth. Older students can use rulers to measure and then record plant height, while younger students may draw pictures and count the number of leaves. I’ve even heard of students conducting inquiry-based experiments on plants using a control group and a variable group. The possibilities are limitless. Here are some more lesson ideas involving a class garden.

Gardening Lesson Plans:

Galapagos: Beyond Darwin

Students study endemic plants and animals. As a class, they plan and plant an endemic garden.

Planting a Garden

This lesson provides a great plan for breaking the class into small groups to plant a garden.

Garden of Good Eatin'

Students explore the nutritious foods that grow in a garden. The food pyramid is introduced and students sort foods into different food groups.

Compost in a Milk Carton

Students begin their own small scale compost bin in an old milk carton.