The German term kindergarten translates to “child-garden.” It was coined in the early 19th century by education pioneer Friedrich Froebel, who thought of children as figurative flowers to be tended and nurtured. He also educated children in actual gardens, and believed that a connection to nature would help them develop their powers of observation.
Now, two centuries later, the movement to integrate gardens and education is on the rise, propelled in large part by Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley, California. In the state of California alone there are now more than six thousand gardens at public and private schools; nationwide, there are tens of thousands.
Waters describes food gardens as “interactive classrooms” that can improve virtually any area of learning: Kids can count beans and measure plant growth with math teachers, explore a living ecosystem in science class, draw vining snap peas with art instructors, and learn about the history of civilization as they harvest corn.
In Chicago, Jeanne has worked with thousands of students and more than 100 teachers to help them design and implement their school curricula around gardens. In the process, she has seen how gardens can transform schools with added green space, better school lunches and nutrition, hands-on learning environments, better academic performance and invaluable lessons in cooperation, perseverance and environmental stewardship.
Here are seven amazing ways gardens are transforming American schools:
Click on through to see how gardens can improve education 1 of 8
Increase Kids’ Fruit and Vegetable Consumption 2 of 8
By tending and growing their own food, kids learn to love healthier food. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association published a study that found that students involved in a garden-based nutrition education program increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 2.5 servings per day, more than doubling their overall consumption of fresh produce. The Edible Schoolyard website has excellent resources for food education in American schools.
Get Children Outside 3 of 8
Many public schools in America don't have outdoor greenspace or, for that matter, gyms or outdoor recess. Some school gardens in inner-city schools are providing students with their only physical activity and the only green space within cramped campus lots.
Enhance Curriculum for Teachers 4 of 8
Virtually every area of teaching can be enhanced by gardens: Kids can learn about plant life cycles in their science classes and test different conditions of moisture and sun to figure out why some plants thrive and others don't. English teachers can bring students into the garden space to observe details and write descriptive passages and poems; art teachers can use the plants as subject matter for drawing and painting; math teachers can work with kids to chart plant growth and variability.
Provide Hands-On Learning Opportunities 5 of 8
In gardens, kids learn by doing — with all their senses engaged — rather than just gleaning information from text books. One recent study published by the American Society for Horticultural Science found that students who participated in hands-on science lessons in a school garden scored higher on science tests than students who learned in a typical classroom.
Teach about Perseverance and Patience 6 of 8
Gardens can't be grown overnight — they thrive gradually, and only with steady maintenance and care. Motivated by the promise of juicy, crunchy, edible rewards, kids learn the lesson of perseverance.
Encourage Kids to Use Teamwork 7 of 8
Gardening provides schools and classrooms with a cooperative learning environment. Kids share the tasks of planning, planting, and tending — weeding, staking, pruning, watering, fertilizing — working together to make the garden succeed.
Foster Environmental Stewardship and Respect 8 of 8
When a tiny, hard seed transforms into something lush, edible and a thousand times its size, the process can be transformative for the kids, themselves — especially kids in inner-city neighborhoods who've had little exposure to the natural world. School gardens foster respect for the natural world and can be a gateway for the rising generation of environmentalists.