Sowing seeds of critical understanding in schools

“Kids don’t remember their best day of television”. Author Unknown

Traditionally, learning happened inside the classroom. Until recent times, children were considered privileged if they were herded off the land and into the classrooms. It was either or. You either remained a farmer, or became an educated person.

Today, children spend so much time indoors, that they have become alienated with what’s outside their own windows. It is not rarely that we hear, that children for example don’t know where eggs come from. The benefits of getting children outside and giving them the task of growing their own garden are immense.

Firstly there is increasing evidence that school gardening holds educational benefits. In such a technologically-driven world, an understanding of science is vital for the children’s future career prospects. Research proves, that science literacy is more effective when gardening activities are added to the traditional classroom based methods (Klemmer et al., 2005). Gardens provide incredible opportunities to make valuable inter-disciplinary connections, from sciences, to math to social studies. The leap between disciplines can even extend to language and visual arts. Examples include having the class read a book and then grow the plants mentioned in the book. Moreover, as opposed to traditional teaching, garden-based teaching can be applied to children who respond to different learning styles.

Additional to children’s educational competences, growing their own gardens provides them with the much needed sense of connection with nature. Richard Louv’s bestseller ‘Last Child in the Woods’ coins the term nature deficit disorder. This phrase is not meant to be a medical diagnosis, but serves as a description of the human costs of isolation from nature. Getting the children outside the classroom, and giving them the task of caring for their own garden, can have astounding effects. It provides the opportunity for children to understand concepts like the changing of seasons, the water cycle, and the food chain; and contemplate about complicated issues such as the unnecessary use and the effects of pesticides, water shortage, man’s long relationship with the land and connecting children to the source of their food.

Thirdly, having their own garden has an impact on children’s health. Gardens that host fruits and vegetables can help change attitudes towards healthy foods, which are usually not preferred by children. Evidence has shown, that students are more likely to try eating vegetables they have grown themselves, and then to be looking for these foods at home (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr 2002). These effects can then be transferred to the rest of the family, and could potentially lead to families changing their eating habits. Additionally, growing a garden requires physical activity, which is necessary for the children of today, who otherwise spend most of their time indoors.

Last but not least, growing a garden can be an effective and fast way to cultivate the sense of success in children. Watching their labors turn from seed to fruit can instill a sense of ownership and pride. Getting to understand that if they do not water their garden their plants will die introduces them to concepts such as responsibility and teamwork. Having to wait to watch the results of their work, nurtures the feeling of patience, which is a very important life skill.

And we should not forget, gardening makes the schoolyard a more beautiful place to play in!

Written by CARDET