For students, summer is about cultivating a wide array of exciting and memorable activities. But one of those activities can be cultivation itself. For many people, gardening becomes a lifelong endeavor, and one that provides a great deal of pride, exercise and stress relief. Children too can enjoy these many benefits.
Gardens are a valuable instructional and behavioral instrument. Let’s first explore the multiple reasons you should consider incorporating gardening into your teaching repertoire, and then determine which of the several main types of gardens may be a good fit for you, your students, and your school.
Gardening is the ultimate immersive teaching tool. Children can get their hands dirty—literally—and have the experience be a positive thing. It is possible to teach about planning, observation and experimentation using a garden. Check out the Lesson and Activity Ideas Index at this site to find a whole world of terrific garden-oriented learning activities:
A garden is a fantastic way to help children feel good about themselves and their efforts. That is because it is fairly simple to be successful in gardening. With some watering, weeding and attention, the plants do all the rest.
Children who are required to be responsible for a particular plot within a garden suddenly become interested and invested in a hurry. Students can see the direct effects of their actions, and are always satisfied when they can see or taste the payoff for all the hard work they put in.
It has been proven that being in and working with nature is not only beneficial for children, but also even essential for their development. In fact, gardening greatly improves the attention span and concentration of all students, especially for those living with the difficulties of ADHD.
Impulse control can be a tricky concept for even adults. But in children this notion is nearly impossible to master. A garden forces patience upon its practitioners. It takes time to prepare a garden properly, more time for seeds to sprout into seedlings, and still further time for plants to grow in size and produce food or flowers. Children learn the value of waiting for fruition. They are rewarded for perseverance over time.
Gardening is one potential solution to the growing concern about overweight children and childhood obesity. According to one study, gardening for 45 minutes burns as many calories as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. In another study, gardening finished behind only weight training as an activity for building bone density.
Working in a garden can be intense. In the initial creation phase, vegetation needs to be removed and the topsoil dug up and aerated. This is usually accomplished with hoes and garden rakes. Often there are small- to medium-sized rocks that need to be removed from the area. This too takes time and effort. Planting seeds by hand, and especially weeding on one’s hands and knees expends a lot of energy. But this can be a very fun way to stay fit.
Starting a garden in spring, tending it throughout the summer, and harvesting food or preparing it for the winter in fall helps students stay in balance with the natural rhythms of the seasons. They learn to coexist with nature and develop a nurturing attitude regarding plants and other living organisms. Developing an understanding of where produce comes from also encourages children to engage in the healthy practice of purchasing food locally.
Now that we understand how gardens help students perform better socially and academically, let’s take a look at a few types of gardens you may create with your students.
This is the typical backyard or community type of garden. It is often fenced off to protect it from animals that may wish to partake of its offerings. Divide the garden into equal-sized plots, and allow each student a specific plot or assign a group of students to each plot. You may choose to divide students into groups based upon their planting preference—flower garden versus a vegetable garden.
This type of gardening can be accomplished in a small space, making it perfect for the indoor classroom environment. Students can grow herbs and even some types of vegetables in small pots or troughs of soil. Because these plants grow at eye level, it can be easier for children to track their progress and engage in measuring activities.
This link provides information about growing windowsill gardens (http://harvesttotable.com/2010/01/windowsill_gardening_growing_v/) and this link offers potential products to buy to make this process simpler (http://www.gardeningwithkids.org/).
These gardens are usually created in urban environments, particularly in large cities. They may also be appropriate on the roofs of certain school buildings. It is sometimes possible to acquire grants to produce rooftop gardens, and one selling point for these projects is that they can help reduce energy consumption (by defusing cooling costs) of the building(s) they top. They are a very real option for schools that do not own adjacent grounds.
Creating a butterfly garden can be a much more collaborative assignment. This is flower gardening, but on a large scale and with the specific purpose of attracting butterflies. Use these gardens to teach students insect identification and about the difference between annual and perennial plants. This site will get you started (http://www.thebutterflysite.com/gardening.shtml).
The fruits of this labor are all the more luscious for the work involved. A purchased tomato (even an organic one) never tastes as good as one plucked from the sunshine in your own patch of garden. Your students will thank you for the opportunity.