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The Importance of Garden Education

Gardens

For the past school year, I’ve been taking groups of students to the garden every week, where we learn about everything from plant life to how to properly use a knife. Garden education seems to be highly undervalued in our society compared to standardized curriculum, yet it seems to provide broader life lessons than classroom curriculum. In the next decade, I’d love to see that change. The amount of education that can come from a garden is endless. Gardens aren’t just for learning how to grow plants, the education goes far beyond that and the garden educators at IslandWood continue to dazzle me with new things I can teach my students.

  1. Garden1 MZwangHealthy Lifestyle: In the United States, the number of children diagnosed as overweight or obese is growing at an epidemic pace and the number of children who are considered unfit is at an all-time high. This should be the cue for us to take preventative action.

    Garden programs can work to combat this epidemic by teaching students about healthy lifestyle choices, not just nutritionally, but physically as well. It takes a lot of hard work to grow a garden, and when it’s ready to harvest, the payoff is a highly nutritious bounty.

  2. Community Building and Social Development: Lessons in community building and social development aren’t graded in schools, but are equally important (I’d even argue more important) than academic achievement. Children need to learn how to develop a strong sense of community to ensure that our society can continue to operate successfully.

    Gardens create opportunities for students to work cooperatively and share responsibilities. They will learn negative consequences when they forget to water or let forget to close the gate behind them, but the garden will also provide positive reinforcement for proper care when it comes time to harvest and eat.

    Gardening builds confidence, self-esteem, and pride as students watch their hard work pay off into beautiful, fruitful gardens. It also teaches the value of patience and hard work, which are the foundation to a good work ethic.

  3. Student Engagement: Learning in the garden offer students a unique perspective on learning. Gardens are exciting places full of surprises, thus making student engagement a simpler task than it can be in a classroom.

    Using garden spaces to supplement academic lessons also addresses the needs of students with different learning styles to absorb classroom content in a different way that is more suitable to them.  

  4. Environmental Stewardship: For many students, a school garden is the only chance they have to get close to nature and get their hands dirty. Many students lack access to garden space because of their living situations or choose to participate in organized sports or indoor activities.

    Through gardening, students get the opportunity to engage in small agricultural practices and explore the interconnections between the biotic and abiotic factors that sustain life and garner a stronger understanding of the natural world.

  5. Garden2 MZwangThe Story of Food: I used to work for a small nonprofit in Montana whose goal was to get urban students to rural Montana to show them “where their stuff comes from.” The idea was to bring students to the source of their materials, so a cattle ranch to show them where their beef comes from, a mine to talk about the copper in their electronics, a farm to show them where their grains (and other food) comes from, and I think the garden parallels this mission quite well. As far as a lot of children are concerned, their food “comes from the store,” which is true in part, but the path to the store is far more complicated and can be difficult to understand if there is no tangible way for students to see the source. School gardens provide a more affordable, accessible solution to learning where your food originates than traveling across the country to see it first hand.

  6. Cooking Skills: The outdoor school where I’ve been teaching for the last ten months, IslandWood, has a fabulous program in their garden called Soil to Snack. For this activity, students spend two hours in the garden harvesting food and herbs that they will turn into a delicious snack and tea with the help of the garden educators and an IslandWood chef. With guidance from the chef, the students do all the prep work, which includes chopping, slicing, grinding, grating, and whatever else needs to be done. The chef begins every lesson with a quick “knife safety” talk and demonstrates the proper way to hold the knife and the food to be chopped, a skill that some of these kids have never used and will likely never be taught in any other lesson at school.

  7. Garden3 MZwangFood Justice: School gardens can be a great way to address food justice issues at school. Because most school cafeterias cannot afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for their meals, students who rely on free and reduced lunch programs for one or two meals a day aren’t getting adequate nutrition. If a school’s garden space is large enough, students can help grow the food that is incorporated into school meals.

    Space can be a limiting factor for many schools, especially those in urban settings. Garden education can be parlayed into community projects for students to help transform previously unused space into edible space that can then be donated to those who have little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Although gardens aren’t a primary focus of most formal educators, they are fabulous places to supplement academic subjects with hands-on learning experiences. Childhood experiences with nature help to shape the way that one views the environment as an adult. Garden time as a child helps to establish important connections with nature that will instill a level of appreciation and respect for green spaces and nature that students carry into adulthood. Plus, gardening is a skill that can be used for a lifetime and should be learned at an early age.

For the past school year, I’ve been taking groups of students to the garden every week, where we learn about everything from plant life to how to properly use a knife. Garden education seems to be highly undervalued in our society compared to standardized curriculum, yet it seems to provide broader life lessons than classroom curriculum. In the next decade, I’d love to see that change. The amount of education that can come from a garden is endless. Gardens aren’t just for learning how to grow plants, the education goes far beyond that and the garden educators at IslandWood continue to dazzle me with new things I can teach my students.

  1. Garden1 MZwangHealthy Lifestyle: In the United States, the number of children diagnosed as overweight or obese is growing at an epidemic pace and the number of children who are considered unfit is at an all-time high. This should be the cue for us to take preventative action.

    Garden programs can work to combat this epidemic by teaching students about healthy lifestyle choices, not just nutritionally, but physically as well. It takes a lot of hard work to grow a garden, and when it’s ready to harvest, the payoff is a highly nutritious bounty.

  2. Community Building and Social Development: Lessons in community building and social development aren’t graded in schools, but are equally important (I’d even argue more important) than academic achievement. Children need to learn how to develop a strong sense of community to ensure that our society can continue to operate successfully.

    Gardens create opportunities for students to work cooperatively and share responsibilities. They will learn negative consequences when they forget to water or let forget to close the gate behind them, but the garden will also provide positive reinforcement for proper care when it comes time to harvest and eat.

    Gardening builds confidence, self-esteem, and pride as students watch their hard work pay off into beautiful, fruitful gardens. It also teaches the value of patience and hard work, which are the foundation to a good work ethic.

  3. Student Engagement: Learning in the garden offer students a unique perspective on learning. Gardens are exciting places full of surprises, thus making student engagement a simpler task than it can be in a classroom.

    Using garden spaces to supplement academic lessons also addresses the needs of students with different learning styles to absorb classroom content in a different way that is more suitable to them.  

  4. Environmental Stewardship: For many students, a school garden is the only chance they have to get close to nature and get their hands dirty. Many students lack access to garden space because of their living situations or choose to participate in organized sports or indoor activities.

    Through gardening, students get the opportunity to engage in small agricultural practices and explore the interconnections between the biotic and abiotic factors that sustain life and garner a stronger understanding of the natural world.

  5. Garden2 MZwangThe Story of Food: I used to work for a small nonprofit in Montana whose goal was to get urban students to rural Montana to show them “where their stuff comes from.” The idea was to bring students to the source of their materials, so a cattle ranch to show them where their beef comes from, a mine to talk about the copper in their electronics, a farm to show them where their grains (and other food) comes from, and I think the garden parallels this mission quite well. As far as a lot of children are concerned, their food “comes from the store,” which is true in part, but the path to the store is far more complicated and can be difficult to understand if there is no tangible way for students to see the source. School gardens provide a more affordable, accessible solution to learning where your food originates than traveling across the country to see it first hand.

  6. Cooking Skills: The outdoor school where I’ve been teaching for the last ten months, IslandWood, has a fabulous program in their garden called Soil to Snack. For this activity, students spend two hours in the garden harvesting food and herbs that they will turn into a delicious snack and tea with the help of the garden educators and an IslandWood chef. With guidance from the chef, the students do all the prep work, which includes chopping, slicing, grinding, grating, and whatever else needs to be done. The chef begins every lesson with a quick “knife safety” talk and demonstrates the proper way to hold the knife and the food to be chopped, a skill that some of these kids have never used and will likely never be taught in any other lesson at school.

  7. Garden3 MZwangFood Justice: School gardens can be a great way to address food justice issues at school. Because most school cafeterias cannot afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for their meals, students who rely on free and reduced lunch programs for one or two meals a day aren’t getting adequate nutrition. If a school’s garden space is large enough, students can help grow the food that is incorporated into school meals.

    Space can be a limiting factor for many schools, especially those in urban settings. Garden education can be parlayed into community projects for students to help transform previously unused space into edible space that can then be donated to those who have little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Although gardens aren’t a primary focus of most formal educators, they are fabulous places to supplement academic subjects with hands-on learning experiences. Childhood experiences with nature help to shape the way that one views the environment as an adult. Garden time as a child helps to establish important connections with nature that will instill a level of appreciation and respect for green spaces and nature that students carry into adulthood. Plus, gardening is a skill that can be used for a lifetime and should be learned at an early age.

About the Author
Margeaux Zwang

Margeaux spent her childhood exploring the forests, lakes, and mountains surrounding her small hometown in Northwestern Montana. She attended the University of Montana for her undergraduate degree in International Field Geosciences. She had originally planned to major in education, but the prospect of field study courses and study abroad opportunities in the geology department drew her in. For the past several years, she has found herself working several different exciting jobs, including native plant restoration in Alaska, stream surveys in Montana, sea kayak guiding in the San Juan Islands, and most recently, teaching at a before and after school program for 2nd-6th graders in Puyallup, Washington. She chose to attend IslandWood's graduate program because it encourages a lifestyle of curiosity and fascination with the outdoors.