Gardening in schools, and growing of minds

Gardening in schools, and growing of minds

Both passive and active interactions with plants during childhood are associated with positive adult values

Gardens are often the most accessible places for children to learn about nature’s beauty. Both passive and active interactions with plants during childhood are associated with positive adult values. However the strongest influence came from active gardening, such as picking flowers or planting trees as a child. Gardening has been shown to increase scores on environmental attitude survey of elementary school children. Involvement of school children in gardening has the potential to increase liking of fruits, vegetables and ornamentals and consequently their usage for their daily life. Gardening provides benefits that include engaging students in a natural environment to observe, nurture and work cooperatively. It reinforces classroom curriculum across subject areas and life skills. Gardening experience will also promote health and pride in growing plants. It creates an oasis that provides food for the body, mind and spirit.

By providing students with the opportunity to cultivate vegetables, fruits and herbs that represent the diverse cultural backgrounds of our community, this food garden will be unique in the way that it caters to the needs of the students with moderate learning disabilities. In major cities with a significant proportion of students living in multi-storey dwellings, the school grounds often represent the only opportunity for hands on gardening experiences. Gardening will also provide a rich educational tool to students with an opportunity to explore how they can incorporate sustainable choices into their everyday lives, thereby multiplying environmental benefits.

Participation with nature enhances health and well-being.

Gardening enhances mental health, reduces stress, and can produce physiological benefits. Community school gardening has great potential to help alleviate some of the stress experienced by children. It offers recreation, physical and mental health benefits and has potential to help community by fostering social interaction. School gardens enhance nutrition and physical activity and promote the role of public health in improving quality of life. Gardeners directly experience nearby nature by ‘getting their hands dirty’ and growing plants. They enjoy the way vegetables taste, colour of flowers and form emotional connections with the garden.

The physical and social qualities of garden participation awaken the senses and stimulate a range of responses that influence interpersonal processes and social relationships. Gardening offers hands-on, experimental learning opportunities in a wide range of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences and visual arts (e.g., through garden design and decoration), and nutrition. There is mounting evidence that students who participate in school gardening score significantly higher on standardized science achievement tests (Klemmer, 2005).  Richard Louv’s (2005) book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature deficit disorder is a call to action. . A close connection with nature can be therapeutic in addressing attention deficit disorders and other problems faced by so many children today. Dr. Peter Gorski, chief pediatrician at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, USA, has recently affirmed the need to: “reverse the dangerous disconnection between children and nature – dangerous for children’s health, for their growth and development and for their opportunities, to preserve a healthy society.” By deepening children’s sense of connection with nature, school gardening can inspire environmental stewardship. When children learn about water and energy cycles, the food chain, and the peculiar needs of individual species.

They feel the sense of connection to a certain species or individual plant; they have a reason to care about all the forces that impact the plant’s future. A garden offers many occasions for achieving insight into the long-term human impact on the natural environment. With children’s nutrition under assault by fast food and junk food industries, and with only about one-fourth adults eating recommended quantities of fruits and vegetables, it is no wonder that nearly one-third of 10-17 year olds are reported to be overweight or at risk for being overweight. School gardening offers opportunities for outdoor exercise while teaching them useful skills. Gardens containing fruit and vegetables can also help to revise attitudes about particular foods.

There is mounting evidence that active learning in participatory spaces like gardens is more likely to transform children’s food attitudes and habits, and that school gardening, especially when combined with a healthy lunch program or nutritional education, encourages more healthful food choices. Garden activities can help to engage students in learning in a way that is more difficult in the classroom. Gardening allows surprises to arise when insects land in the vicinity, when plants are afflicted with mites or fungus, or when the weather surprises everyone and disrupts the plan for the day. These surprises show that nature is in control and they give students immediate and personal reasons for wanting to know the answers. By engaging in garden learning, students with attention deficit and other disorders often find it more suitable for their learning styles.

Teachers report fewer discipline problems when science is taught in this sort of experiential manner, e.g. teachers develop useful concepts, such as “invisible walls,” to create a sense of boundaries when learning in the garden. Teachers themselves also learn useful gardening skills when they incorporate gardening into their lesson plans. These skills can be transferred into their own homes and social networks, thereby benefiting their own health and the health of their families. Gardening ties students to the social and material history of the land.

Gardeners from the community can be brought in to demonstrate local, traditional gardening techniques and the traditional uses of particular plants. Gardening offers many opportunities for connecting with local history by incorporating native plants and plants grown during specific historical eras. Like a team sport or mascot, gardening can offer a symbolic locus of school pride and spirit. Gardening offers schools a way of helping children to identify with their school and to feel proud of their own individual contribution. Children know which plants they helped to grow, and they feel proud of them. This can improve school spirit and children’s attitudes toward the school. 

Author is SMS-Floriculture, KVK-Bandipora (SKUAST-K), Shalimar, Srinagar