Children today are spending more time indoors and less time outside than ever
before. New technologies, such as computers, television, and video games, have allowed
children stimulation that was once experienced outdoors. However, researchers, authors, parents, and teachers are questioning the effects of this new indoor childhood on the current generation. Louv (2008) defines modern children’s lack of exposure to the outdoors as “nature-deficit disorder” and describes the many problems this disorder can have including lack of attention, diminished use of the senses, and even physical or emotional illness. As a response to the nature-deficient disorder of today’s children, some educators have tried to create ways to expose children to nature. Though there are various avenues that can open children to the outdoors, time constraints and availability can often pose multiple problems. Many teachers have discovered that one of the most can often pose multiple problems. Many teachers have discovered that one of the most convenient ways to expose students to the outdoors is through a school garden. School gardens not only expose children to the outdoors, but also aid nutrition campaigns, increase environmental awareness, challenge students to think critically, and help students to develop holistically. This chapter discusses current research about the
benefits of gardening and addresses the importance of gardening in the classroom.
Researched Benefits of Gardening
Nutrition School gardens have helped improve nutrition in the schools. In a study done
about the effects of a school garden on students’ consumption of fruit and vegetables,
Parmer, Salsibury-Glennon, Shannon, and Struempler (2009) had encouraging results.
The study evaluated six first grade classrooms, with one of those classrooms integrating
gardening into the nutrition curriculum. Using a survey, preference questionnaire, and
lunchroom observations, researchers observed that students in the classroom which
incorporated gardening had the highest preference for fruits and vegetables and ate more
of them during lunch. Not only do gardens improve nutrition, but gardening can also change the way students view food. When explaining how gardening can help students better understand how food is grown and used, Blair (2009) quotes Thorp and Thorp (2001) writing: Gardening changes the status of food for all involved. When one gardens, food can no longer be viewed as a mere commodity for consumption; we are brought into the ritual of communal goodness that is found at the intersection of people
and plants. Food that we grow with our own hands becomes a portal for personal
transformation. (p. 357) As students learn the joys of gardening, they no longer see food as a commodity, but rather value the plants they have grown and appreciate the growing process.
Gardens have increased environmental awareness because they give students the opportunity to experience nature. When describing how environmental attitudes are
formed, Pe’er, Goldman, and Yavetz (2007) emphasize the importance of connecting
with nature at an affective level. The authors write that the affective part of
environmental education is “concerned with the attitudes and values necessary to
motivate the transformation of knowledge into responsible environmental behavior”. p.46
Gardens help increase environmental awareness by allowing students to form
environmental attitudes through hands-on experience. When speaking of the philosophy
behind garden-based learning, Aarit (2002) speaks how gardening guides children to
personal discovery in a natural environment and explains how this process allows
students to internalize important ecological ideas. Researchers have specifically studied the effects of gardening on environmental awareness. Brynjegard (2001) writes of three elementary schools in California that have school gardens and evaluates the environmental awareness of the students of these schools. In the first school, the author tells that the children enjoyed the garden as a place to relate to nature and how children were even able to name native plant species. The second school had planter boxes that gave students a sense of ownership and commitment to the environment. The third school had a part-time garden coordinator who helped create an extensive school garden and facilitated gardening classes. This part-time garden coordinator at the third school stated that the garden promoted maturity in environmental thinking among the students. Morgan, Hamilton, Bentley, and Myrie (2009) speak of school gardening programs helping students become more environmentally aware. While studying a garden program in the inner city, where children have fewer experiences with nature, Morgan et al (2009) recognized that the positive experiences in the garden program promoted more awareness of the outdoors and encouraged positive attitudes towards the environment.
Along with helping students become more environmentally aware, gardening has
increased academic and interdisciplinary skills. In their research about the Brooklyn
Botanic Garden Project Green Reach (PGR), Morgan et al. (2009) observed that students
used the garden in many different academic subjects at the same time. When describing
the interdisciplinary nature of the garden, one student said It forced us to look outside the box when we were thinking about plants. We didn’t just grow them and bring home vegetables and …things of that nature. We drew pictures. We spoke of our experiences while we were there. We made instruments. (p. 43) Their study emphasized that gardening can be an effective teaching tool in many different areas of academia, such as science, art, and even home economics. Blair (2009) discovered that gardening enhances not only interdisciplinary skills, but also develops higher-level cognitive thinking skills by reviewing current research in school gardening. In one research study, 175 elementary students were interviewed after a four-hour hands-on nature program, and their responses were classified in Bloom’s taxonomy. The children’s responses showed that 87% used application vocabulary, 19 % used analysis vocabulary, and 26 % were able to use words that showed synthesis and analysis (Waliczek, Loga, & Zajicek, 2003, as cited by Blair, 2009). In another study, Mabie and Baker (1996) discovered that after an extended
school garden project in a Los Angeles middle school, which included three classroom
projects, including seed starting, chick rearing, and bread baking, students improved in
critical thinking skills such as ordering, comparing, and communicating (as cited by
Blair, 2009). Gardening can help students develop important skills that will aid their
learning in other academic areas.
Gardening encourages students to develop in areas that traditional academics may
ignore, such as self-esteem and social skills. In the Project Green Ranch garden program, Morgan et al. (2009) tell how this program teaches students that growing plants and friendships have similarities. Students in the program are able to work with partners, discuss their ideas about the garden, and speak in front of their peers.
Other researchers have come to similar conclusions about how gardening helps
develop the whole child. During their studies of the impact of a master’s gardening
program in San Antonio Independent School District, Alexander, North, and Hendren
(1995) identified that gardening teaches children how to respect and care
for natural things, to develop patience for delayed gratification, and to cooperate with others. Alexander, North, and Hendren (1995) observed that this master’s gardening program has strengthened the connection between home and school. Parents are encouraged to come in and volunteer, and students are eager to talk about gardening activities at home. Gardening gives students a sense of accomplishment that they want to share with others. Other studies have confirmed that gardens help students develop in ways beyond the academic curriculum. In their study of how outdoor activities involving nature can benefit students, Palmberg and Kuru (2000) discovered that students who had more outdoor experience were more willing to try new activities and work as a team. Students
Importance of Gardening in the Classroom Gardens help children learn through experience. Montessori, the creator of the Montessori philosophy of education, was one of the first educators to realize the importance of experiential learning. Montessori integrated gardening into her school curriculum and discovered that gardens allowed children to contemplate and become excited learners (Alexander, North, & Hendren, 1995). Another educational reformer, Dewey, was also a proponent of gardens. He believed that gardens connected classroom learning with the natural environment of the students and helped integrate knowledge with practice (Kohlstedt, 2008).
Along with allowing students to learn through hands-on activities, gardens help
students connect to nature in their local environment. In a study evaluating the
importance of localizing environmental education, Fisman (2005) learned that students’
understanding of nature greatly increased when they completed an activity that helped
them see the nature in the local environment. This research was guided by the belief that
sustained exposure to nature creates a lasting connection. A school garden gives students
the opportunity to experience nature in a local environment and gives them sustained
exposure to the outdoors.
Integrating Gardening into the Curriculum
The comprehensive nature of gardening allows it to be integrated into almost any
subject. Students can use math while measuring plants, science while studying growth,
art while they draw what they see or experience, and reading as they learn about the
different processes of gardening. When speaking about the integration of gardening,
Subramaniam (2002) declares that gardening is a pivotal platform for integrated
curriculum because it is interactive. Students construct knowledge as they have hands-on
interaction in the garden, and this applied way of learning can help solidify knowledge in
other areas (Drake, 1998, as cited by Subramaniam, 2002).
In a recent study, Blair (2009) examined whether the benefits of integrating
school gardens into the curriculum have been proven by measurable results. The study
reviewed multiple current journal articles about gardening education and identified that
nine out of the twelve quantitative studies agreed that gardening measurably improved
behavioral and higher science achievement.