What School Gardens Teach Kids
Updated: May 21, 2018
Spring has finally arrived and students are thrilled to return to their school gardens.
Soon, the gardens at each of the four Ready Set Healthy schools will be overflowing with vegetables ranging from sugar snap peas, to radishes, lettuce, collards and Swiss chard.
“When are we going to eat? Can we eat anything now? Can we grow spinach?” These are all questions you’ll hear students asking over and over again when they’re in their garden. Kids have been so eager to eat what they’ve grown, that the produce rarely makes it inside. Instead it’s picked, washed and eaten right in the garden, often without any extra ingredients added.
Since September 2016 Isles, a Trenton based community development and environmental non-profit, has partnered with Ready Set Healthy, to deliver garden based educational programming in Trenton schools. Beyond getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables, a school garden can make classroom lessons come to life. In third grade, students are learning about factors that affect how living things survive in their habitat, but instead of being inside completing pages in a workbook, they are outdoors getting hands-on lessons about the natural world. So far they have conducted experiments testing different types of soil, learned about composting and the nutrient cycle by getting up close and personal with worms, and received first- hand experience about what plants need to grow, by planting and caring for dozens of seeds and seedlings.
Of course, when students first began working in the garden two years ago, many weren’t quite as excited. Some cried hysterically when asked to try Swiss chard, while others withdrew, skeptical of the strange wooden boxes harboring questionable vegetation. With some patience, a lot of persistence, and by allowing kids to cultivate a sense of ownership and pride over their garden, kids that previously wouldn’t have considered eating a new food, have transformed into vegetable eating fanatics.
That’s been a major motivating principle behind Isles’ garden based learning program. For many students, the school garden is the first time they are seeing where their food comes from and how it is produced. It can be eye opening. For many, it changes their perceptions about the food they eat (or previously weren’t interested in eating). They gain a heightened awareness of the world around them and become more open to trying new things.
Right now, students are excitedly waiting for their plants to grow so that they can harvest and eat them. In the meantime, they are tending to their garden and learning invaluable lessons that can’t always be taught in a classroom.