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Research to Support Gardening in Schools Programs

Research to Support Gardening in Schools Programs

 

School gardening research studies that may help fuel your proposals.

  • Gardens are places where the cycle of life and season’s come alive for kids.
  • Nothing about a garden is abstract.
  • Gardening with children is active learning.
  • The science concepts and skills students gain from a garden project are impressive.
  • The garden classroom is an environment where children learn about plants, food, and nutrition.
  • Enhances the core curriculum in math, language, health and science.
  • The science concepts and skills students gain from a garden improve reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and written expression.
  • Gardening encourages responsibility, patience, and cooperative behavior.
  • Kids are enthusiastic, interested, take initiative and develop a love for nature, plants and science.
  • Encourages environmental awareness and concern for the human impact.
  • Kids gain a greater understanding of life science concepts, life cycles.
  • Kids gain a clearer understanding of science processes, and improve problem solving skills, math skills, and language arts skills.
  • Student behavior improves when the garden is a learning context.
  • Kids exhibit a greater increase in social concerns (feeding the hungry).
  • Improves relationships with students and parents.
  • Kids who are behaviorally disturbed or learning impaired make great strides in a gardening program.
  • When children have an opportunity to create a garden, become ‘experts,’ and share their expertise with others, their skills and confidence soar.
  • Scores are significantly higher in students’ understanding of key life science concepts and science inquiry skills.
  • Scores are higher on attitude scales measuring “concern for the environment” and “confidence in ability to do science.”
  • Attitudes toward vegetables improves, and their preferences for fruit and vegetables.
  • Beyond offering rich language arts opportunities, the garden is a natural context for science inquiries, math problem solving, and developing social skills such as working together to puzzle out problems.
  • Kids become more expressive and better citizens.
  • Students understand the interdependence of life and overcome fears about nature.
  • Kids learn about conservation and recycling and develop skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
  • The garden develops deep roots for lifelong learners.
  • Gardening enhances the core curriculum.
  • Children learn to share, and work as a team.
  • The most significant student gains are in self-esteem and achievement in reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and written expression.
  • At the end kids will be more confident, more expressive, advanced academically and better citizens.
  • They learn about conservation and recycling and develop skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
  • The garden shows the children’s strength, ability, and love for the outdoors and nature. It develops deep roots for lifelong learners.
  • The curriculum is broad and the health benefits are great.
  • Freedom comes with self-control, caring, sharing, and kindness and these grow in a garden.
  • Gardens are a place where the cycle of life and season’s come alive for kids.
  • Gardens can bridge age gaps by bringing together family and community members who are generations apart.
  • Gardens are a place of spontaneous hands-on discovery that can’t occur sitting at a desk or reading a book.
  • Young children strengthen fine and gross motor skills and experience their own impact on their environment.
  • Children hone their observation skills and develop scientific understanding, as early as preschool years, as they watch plants change and grow.
  • Gardening is a way to learn and contributes to the vision for a healthier more active community.
  • The natural world is a teacher and gives us sustenance, strength, and inspiration.
  • Kids learn the consequences of one’s actions in a very direct way.
  • Gardening with kids gives them “a real-life connection to what they learn in the classroom and develops deep roots for lifelong learning.
  • Sound nutrition and physical activity are a critical part of children’s health and development.
  • Gardening programs improve communication skills, increase knowledge and understanding of each other, promote peace, and bring about healthy changes in kids lives, their community and the world.
  • Gardening with kids has a lifelong impact.
  • Learn about the uniqueness of the earth as a life supporting system.
  • Gain insight into how we use science and technology in our lives.
  • Give opportunity to take advantage of the teachable moment, address multiple intelligences and an emergent curriculum.
  • Gardens are significant for its ethnic heritage associations and its associations with community growth and identity.
  • Learn first hand how energy from the sun helps to grow the food we eat.
  • Spiritual renewal
  • Gives back beneficial and sustainable byproducts.
  • Teaches about climate zones.
  • Contributes toward a sustainable culture.
  • Plays an important role in creating an ecologically sustainable educational system within an ecologically sustainable environment.
  • Perfect place for service learning projects and teaches stewardship, grace and empowerment.
  • Contributes to the vision for a healthier more active community.
  • Caring for life helps children develop their knowledge and understanding of life and a reverence and respect for life. Children develop more nurturing attitudes.
  • Children are natural explorers and delight in and are inspired by the outdoors.
  • A more stimulating environment than the outdoors for the development of the mind, body, senses and the spirit doesn’t exist.
  • Gardens have the power to heal.
  • Helps build a movement of educational and environmental change that is rooted in love and respect for the interconnectedness of all of life.
  • Nurtures the child’s imagination and curiosity.
  • Enhances moral education and socialization skills.
  • Reduces stress and enhances mental health.
  • Encourages self-discovery and the sharing of individual perceptions.
  • Broadens one’s views and knowledge of nature, community, and themselves.
  • Helps children understand the value of our natural resources.
  • Develops a students understanding of natural systems in their community.
  • Foods give us a window on cultural understanding and appreciation.
  • Gardens are ideal vehicles for introducing the elements of multicultural education.
  • Contributes toward a sustainable culture.
  • Foster a greater awareness of and appreciation for how food is grown.
  • Impact on cultural literacy, and encourages the implementation of environmental initiatives.
  • Increases the opportunities for education and cultural exchange.
  • Opportunities for the child to discover abound.
  • Horticulture is a profession deeply rooted in community involvement and active based living.
  • Many disciplines can be taught in a garden: language, science, creative arts, history, math, nutrition, life skills, ecology, and conservation.

Gardening Meets Special Needs

“Over and over we’ve found that kids who have been labeled behaviorally disturbed, learning impaired, and so on, make great strides in our garden program. When they have an opportunity to create a garden, become ‘experts,’ and share their expertise with others (often in a role reversal), their skills and confidence soar.”

— Karen Williger, New Orleans, LA

“A season after initiating a therapeutic garden for adolescents, I was floored by their enthusiasm and ability to focus on tasks. It was also amazing to see how fast group cohesion, trust, and self-esteem grew.”

— Amy Stein, Yardley, PA

Why Teach Outside?

PLT is a great organization with wonderful programs. You should schedule them to come to your school and reap the benefits of their knowledge, wisdom, and resources. I hope this article taken from PLT encourages you to teach outside every opportunity you have. After all, it is our home, and kids love to be outdoors.

WHY TEACH OUTSIDE?

Project Learning Tree

Quick—what’s your favorite Project Learning Tree activity? Now think again. Where do you do it?

If you answered “indoors,” reflect… could you have done it outdoors? Even reading a story, like “In the Forest of S.T. Shrew” found in PLT’s Activity Guide8, takes on many added dimensions, if simply read outdoors.

We teach indoors for lots of reasons. After all, someone built us a building. Indoors feels secure. There are four walls and a ceiling. It never rains, snows, or darkens, and it’s always a comfortable temperature. We have desks, pencils, Smart Boards, and electrical outlets. However, it can deprive us of stimulation.

Why Teach Outside?

Intellectually, we’re aware of benefits of learning outside the four walls of the classroom. A growing body of research reveals the significance of early experiences with nature as an important factor in developing environmental awareness (Taylor and Kuo, 2006; Orr, 2004). A quick glance at the voluminous research abstracts listed on the Children and Nature network reveals several research studies that glow about how nature, hands-on learning, and authentic experiences can:

  • Improve test scores, attendance, attitude toward learning
  • Positively affect a child’s physical, social, interpersonal, and aesthetic development
  • Alleviate symptoms of ADHD and ADD
  • Help ELL learners learn new vocabulary
  • Improve child health
  • Allow children who learn differently from others to become leaders and shine

With benefits like these, teaching outside should be a “no-brainer.” Yet most teachers don’t go outside with their students. Why?

Barriers to Teaching Outside

Cynthia C. Gardner from Lander University in South Carolina wrote a paper called “Why Some Teachers are not using the Schoolyard Environment.” (For a copy, contact cgardner@lander.edu.) She had taught at a South Carolina school that had three beautiful designated outdoor teaching areas (a pine forest, a pond, and a wetland), yet observed very few teachers using those spaces. To find out why, Gardner distributed 50 surveys to teachers of kindergarten through grade 5. She received 35 responses. A quick summary of the results:

  • Sixty-six percent (23 teachers) never used the pond area; 37% (13 teachers) never used the pine forest; and 40% (14 teachers) never used the wetland.
  • Most used the outdoor areas 1-5 times a year. Only one teacher used it 6-10 times a year.
  • Reported levels of comfort teaching outdoors: low 31% (11 teachers); medium 40% (14 teachers), high 29% (10 teachers)
  • Perception of importance of adding the natural areas into the curriculum: Not or somewhat important: 60% (21 teachers); important or very important: 40% (14 teachers)

Teachers were also asked to identify barriers to teaching outside. The barriers fell into five categories:

  • curriculum standards,
  • daily schedule,
  • supervision of children,
  • hazards, and
  • lack of knowledge.

Only the K-2 teachers cited “supervision of children” and “natural hazards” as barriers. Only grade 3-5 teachers cited “lack of knowledge.” Teachers from all grade levels cited the curriculum standards and the daily schedule.

While Gardner’s study focuses only on one school in South Carolina, I suspect her results are pretty similar elsewhere. I’ve worked with hundreds of teachers over the years. I’ve heard lots of excuses, concerns, and barriers to going outside. I could add a few more barriers to Gardner’s list:

  • kids aren’t properly dressed for the weather,
  • we “don’t have nature,” and
  • the teachers simply don’t like nature/cold/wet/wind/sun/snow/ticks/etc.
  • student-sitting-against-tree-in-snow-writing-poetry

Attend a PLT workshop and become comfortable teaching outdoors – in urban, suburban, and rural environments.

I know which teachers consistently take their students outside to learn, and have heard testimonials on the benefits of nature in academic settings.  Find a mentor at a local nature center, through your state environmental education organization, or contact your state PLT program coordinator for help. Check out the many useful Appendices in PLT’s Envrironmental Experiences for Early Childhood guide, for example “Playing It Safe Outdoors”, “Taking Neighborhood Walks”, “Setting Up an Outdoor Classroom”, “Encouraging Unstructured Outdoor Play”, and more.

Dimensions of Learning

 

Dimensions of Learning is a comprehensive model designed by the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory in Aurora, Colorado that uses what researchers and theorists know about learning to develop dimensions of thinking.

Dimension 1: Attitudes and Perceptions

If students view the classroom as an unsafe and disorderly place, they will likely learn little there. Similarly, when they have negative attitudes about classroom tasks, they will probably put little effort into those tasks. A key element of effective instruction, then, is helping students to establish positive attitudes and perceptions about the classroom and about learning.

Dimension 2: Acquire and Integrate Knowledge

When students are acquiring new skills, they must learn a set of steps, then shape the skill to make it personally efficient and effective. Finally, they must internalize or practice the skill so they can perform it easily.

Dimension 3: Extend and Refine Knowledge

Learners rigorously analyze what they have learned by applying reasoning processes to help them extend and renew information. These processes include:

  • Comparing
  • Classifying
  • Abstracting
  • Reasoning inductively and deductively • Constructing support
  • Analyzing errors and perspectives

Dimension 4: Use Knowledge Meaningfully

Ensuring students have the opportunity to use knowledge in meaningful ways is one of the most important parts of planning a unit of instruction. In the Dimensions of Learning model, tasks can be constructed around six thinking processes to encourage the meaningful use of knowledge:

  • Decision making • Problem solving • Invention
  • Investigation
  • Experimental inquiry • Systems analysis

Dimension 5: Productive Habits of Mind

The most effective learners develop powerful habits of mind that enable them to think critically and creatively to regulate their behavior appropriately and effectively.

Source: Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning

The Garden Classroom

Gardening reclaims the heart in nature education!   Gardening with children is active learning, and gardens are a place where the cycle of life and season’s come alive for kids.

An outdoor classroom promotes social interaction and communion with nature. And they can bridge age gaps by bringing together family and community members who are generations apart. They are a place of spontaneous hands-on discovery that can not occur sitting at a desk or reading a book.

Young children not only strengthen fine and gross motor skills, but experience their own impact on their environment. They hone in their observation skills and develop a scientific understanding as early as preschool years as they watch plants change and grow. Gardening is a way to learn the consequences of one’s actions in a very direct way.

Watching a seedling unfurl, witnessing the death of a neglected plant, raising a garden for butterflies — such experiences help students acquire a direct, personal understanding of what living things require to thrive, and how they adapt and interact. These connections serve as a vital foundation for developing a lifelong ethic of environmental stewardship.

Children learn about conservation and recycling, and develop skills they can use for the rest of their lives. The garden shows the children’s strength, ability, and love for the outdoors and nature. Gardening with kids gives them “a real-life connection to what they learn in the classroom and develops deep roots for lifelong learners.

Develop a curriculum that improves communication skills, increases their knowledge and understanding of each other, promotes peace, and brings about healthy changes in their lives, community, and the world. Sound nutrition and physical activity are one of the most important parts of a child’s health and development.

We are nature’s guest. The leader of a good outdoor classroom or study group must posses the ability to arouse curiosity and enthusiasm and share a genuine love for nature. Every situation should reflect the teachers environmental ethics.Our values reveal the relative importance of the human to other organisms. To establish values for the environment we need to observe and understand it.

Environmental values will inevitably become more and more critical as population growth, the lack of clean air and water, climate change, resource depletion and poverty grow.

There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day
or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover,
and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter,
And the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf.

Walt Whitman

Children and Nature

There was a child went forth everyday, And the first object he looked upon, that object he became, And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years. The early lilacs became part of this child, And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird, And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf, . . . Walt Whitman

Learning is taking place at all times in all circumstances for every person. There are many ways to learn. Children learn best by doing. Inspire children with the diversity of life!

“It’s absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to sit in confinement with people of exactly the same age and social class. That system effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety; indeed it cuts you off from your own past and future, sealing you in a continuous present much the same way television does…

Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.” ~ John Taylor Gatto ~

Biophilia is the love of nature. Eco-psychology and evolutionary psychology suggest that humans are genetically programmed by evolution with an affinity for the natural outdoors. Evolutionary psychologists use the term biophilia to refer to this innate, hereditary emotional attraction of humans to nature and other living organisms. Natural outdoor environments produce positive physiological and psychological responses in humans, including reduced stress and a general feeling of wellbeing. People, especially young children, who have not yet adapted to the man-made world, prefer natural landscapes to built environments.

Biophobia is the aversion to nature. If the human attraction to nature is not given opportunities to flourish during the early years of life, biophobia may develop. Biophobia ranges from discomfort in natural places to active scorn for whatever is not man-made managed or air-conditioned. Biophobia manifests in the tendency to regard nature as nothing more than a disposable resource.

Research consistently shows that children have a strong preference to be outdoors in nature. Nature sustains us and is an incredible library of knowledge. Children are natural explorers and have an intense desire for knowledge about their surroundings. They need opportunities to explore the natural world for if there are not early experiences with nature, a love and respect for nature doesn’t develop. It is important that we guide children to discover themselves and the world around them.

In the outdoor classroom children feel a sense of belonging in nature, become more observant, and develop a reverence for life. Watching a seedling unfurl, witnessing the death of a neglected plant, raising a garden for butterflies – these experiences help students acquire a direct, personal understanding of what living things require to thrive, and how they adapt and interact. These connections serve as a vital foundation for developing a lifelong ethic of environmental stewardship. The outdoors is a developmentally appropriate classroom for children.

Society puts its best foot forward in early childhood education. Fifty percent of our intellectual capability is achieved before the age of four. Psychological patterns are set before the age of seven and the child’s self image is formed during this time, which sets his personality pattern. I can’t think of any better place to stimulate their senses and develop perceptual motor skills than the great outdoors!

Children are not born with finely tuned perceptual motor skills. They are a result of being challenged as a child. Research has shown us the intellectualizing capability of the senses. The development of the senses precedes that of superior intellectual activity and the power of observation is procured through the development of the senses.

Children are sensorial explorers. They gain a better understanding of the world around them when they are involved in activities that bring them in direct contact with nature. Nature captivates the child’s imagination, activates the senses and gives them a sense of belonging in nature and they develop the ability to express their experiences.

Knowledge advances rapidly when the line between work and play fades. Remember . . . children are always unconsciously taking in impressions that form their minds.

Conduct some observation excursions. Walk with a purpose. Maybe it will be to discover trees, the kinds of leaves or fruit they bear, the shade they give, or the shelter they give to birds and animals. You can teach children about trees in the classroom, but they must see and experience trees to make trees real to them. Get outside with children, get some exercise, build a garden and explore together. Everyone benefits! Rather than showing them a tomato, let them grow one and see where it comes from, and how and what it needs! Our children will grow healthier, understand where their food comes from and that plants are alive, and an outdoor classroom addresses our health in every way . . . mentally, physically, and spiritually. It is a fact.

It is our responsibility to see that our children get what they need in the healthiest environment possible. It is a critical time to stand up for children and provide them with more than a swing and monkey bars and a yard of fire ants or a basketball. I know this is not every school, but I have seen and experienced enough to know that our children’s greatest needs and period of learning and development are from conception through the elementary years. This is where our focus should be in order to help children grow healthy and strong. After these years there focus changes, there ‘s a social adjustment, a different focus, and very different life experiences.

Environmental education should start early with hands-on experiences with nature. There is evidence that concern for the environment is based on affection for nature that only develops with autonomous, unmediated contact with nature. The way people feel in pleasing natural environments improves recall of information, creative problem solving, and creativity.

Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and a sense of wonder. Wonder is important as it a motivator for life long learning.

The natural world is essential to the emotional health of children. Just as children need positive adult contact and a sense of connection to the wider human community, they need positive contact with nature and the chance for solitude and the sense of wonder that nature offers.

All the manufactured equipment and indoor instructional materials produced by the best educators in the world cannot substitute for the primary experience of hands-on engagement with nature. Manufactured equipment falls very short of the potential of outdoor areas to be rich play and learning environments for children, and denies children their birthright to experience nature outdoors, which includes vegetation, animals, insects, water and sand, not just the sun and air that manufactured playgrounds offer.

The lives of children today are more structured and supervised, with few opportunities for free play. Their physical boundaries have shrunk. Parents are afraid for their children’s safety And when children do have free time, it’s often spent inside in front of the television or computers. For some children, that’s because their neighborhood, apartment complex or house has no outdoor play space. Children live, what one play authority refers to, a childhood of imprisonment. Childcare facility playgrounds are often the only outdoor time many young children experience.

Gardening reclains the heart in nature education!