The Benefits of a School Garden

By Sher Warkentin in Thinking Sustainably

One of the first things I fell in love with at my daughter's school was the garden. Not only is it a special place for the kids to visit, but it's also an extension of the classroom where students can get some hands-on learning experience in everything from the environment and agriculture to math and art. The benefits of a school garden are numerous and can make your school a truly special place for everyone.

A school garden has so many educational benefits.

Benefits of a School Garden

The educational advantages alone are well worth the work required to start and maintain a garden at your child's school (or near a classroom you volunteer with if you don't have kids of your own). Lesson plans in the classroom can really come to life when they are presented in the garden space.

Math and science lessons can sprout from analyzing soil and counting seeds, and pint-size art and writing talents can have a chance to flower in an outdoor space. Besides the educational basics, a garden also gives kids an important ongoing lesson in food, nutrition, and the environment by giving them real-world experience with the amount of time and work it takes to grow produce.

Sharing the Harvest

The benefits of a school garden don't stop there. The North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension notes that one study found that a classroom garden increases the amount of vegetables that students eat. You can also encourage kids to share their harvest with the community.

At my children's school, the garden pays for its own upkeep thanks to our weekly farmers' market stand. Not only do our kids get to experience planting from seeds and watching their hard work turn into fruits and vegetables, they also have a chance to harvest their crops and learn a little about economics by selling their produce outside of the school.

The students learn about how much work can go into growing and selling a product, while the school raises enough funds to make it possible to maintain the garden and buy the supplies needed to help it thrive. Above all, the school garden gives the students a sense of pride and community in their school and helps drive home one of the school's mottoes of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

A school garden requires planning and dedication.

How Does Your School Garden Grow?

Looking to break ground on a new school garden? The first place to start is with a discussion of your ideas with the principal and administration. If you have a Parent-Teacher Association or school booster club, you can use that group to help organize and make your plans for the garden. You'll need to decide on a space on the school yard that will be optimal to build and plant. Being short on space shouldn't be a deterrent, however, as even a small garden or a few containers of herbs can be a learning opportunity.

Once you have approval and a space, you need to come up with a budget and a plan. You'll need to plot out how you will use the space to plant and what you plan to grow. At this point, you can involve the kiddos. Older children can help draw and measure a layout, while the little ones can nominate their favorite vegetables to grow.

The Dirty Work

Getting a garden up and running can take a full school year depending on how much help and time you have. Get started early with clearing the space you want to use, tilling the soil, and removing weeds and debris. You might also consider building raised-bed boxes. Keep your first growing year simple with just a few easy-to-grow crops and look to expand from there. You can also wrangle some dedicated child and grown-up volunteers to help dig and plant, and encourage them to come back and check the garden's progress.

Beyond figuring out the garden space itself, you also need a plan on how to maintain the garden. You need your dedicated volunteers to plant, water, and weed on a regular basis if you want the space to survive and thrive.

When it comes to budgeting, if your funds are minimal, look to your community for donors that might sponsor your garden or donate seeds, soil, or tools. With the popularity of school gardens growing across the country, there are now several nonprofit organizations offering resources and plans to help you get started. Look around in your local area to see what support might be available for your school garden project.

The benefits of a school garden are tremendous and well worth the time and effort needed to get started. Get your community on board, and they'll keep your garden (and students) growing.

Image source: Pexels | Sher Warkentin | Sher Warkentin

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