A school garden teaches children about the entire circle of life. Caring for plants as they sprout, grow and fade away gives them an intrinsic understanding of nature’s processes. It also helps kids understand how important nature is to our lives and those of other creatures.
Nurturing this bond with our ecosystem seems more important now than ever. In some ways, you could say that school gardens are a beacon of hope for our kids and for our planet.
But school gardens also help children in ways that may not seem so obvious at first. Beyond helping them to grow their own food (an amazing skill to begin with), more and more benefits are coming to light.
Benefits of Starting a School Garden
Research shows that working in a school garden can:
- Improve children's test scores in science
- Improve social skills through empathy and teamwork
- Help them develop a sense of community and responsibility
- Get them to eat more vegetables
- Instill an appreciation of the natural world
- Strengthen their immune systems
- Keep them physically active
- Relieve anxiety
Obviously, there are a lot of great reasons for planting a school garden. So how do you get started?
Form a Garden Committee
Getting your garden started and keeping it running is all about teamwork. You’ll need people to plant and care for the garden, fundraise, build fences and do some community outreach.
It may seem like a tall order at first, but once you reach out to teachers, students, administrators and parents, you’ll most likely find plenty of people who share your enthusiasm.
Once you have your committee together, they’ll be responsible for getting school approval, deciding what kind of garden to plant and how it will operate.
Try to involve people with diverse skill sets to cover your bases. It will help your garden grow!
Decide the Purpose of Your Garden
Now that you have your team together, you’ll need to set a goal for your garden. They vary from school to school, but here are some common purposes. And obviously, whatever you decide will affect the size and design of the area you plant.
Provide Hands-on Learning
Many children that don’t learn as well in the classroom thrive in a hands-on environment. Lessons in the garden could include plant and insect life cycles. But even art, science and math can be enlivened in an outdoor setting.
Grow Food for School Programs
Obviously, this would require a bigger garden. But all those fresh veggies will definitely be welcomed in your school cafeteria!
Send Produce Home with Students
Some children in urban areas don’t have access to fruits and vegetables. Starting a school garden gives these kids a chance to eat fresh produce as well as learning valuable lessons about our ecosystem.
Learn About Composting
Composting helps children learn about eliminating waste and the cyclical nature of the environment.
The peace and beauty of gardens is always a balm for the soul. Some schools use gardens to provide a respite from the busy world and provide a calm space for therapeutic activities.
Pick Your Spot
Now that you know the purpose of your garden, it’s time to find a spot that suits your needs. Here are some things to consider before digging into your project.
For a garden to thrive, it needs plenty of sunlight. Try to find a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. If you can get up to 7 or 8, even better! That will help you grow a wider variety of fruits and veggies.
Try to find a spot that has nearby water access. Keep in mind that the further you are away from the source of water, the less water pressure you’ll have. One hose length away is ideal.
Ask yourself if the space is big enough to accommodate the purpose of your garden. Yes, you’ll need room for the plants. But also keep in mind that you might want space for a toolshed, potting tables, benches and maybe a compost bin.
Be sure your garden has room to grow!
Is It sheltered from other school activities?
Ideally, a garden should be visible, but not too close to other school activities. You don’t want your little seedlings getting trampled by feet or pummeled by soccer balls. You may also want to consider a fence to keep your garden safe from both people and animals.
Is your soil healthy?
Healthy soil is key if you want your garden to be a success. If there’s already dirt on your site, you may want to have it tested for nutrient levels. If it needs help, you can enrich it with fertilizers like compost or manure.
Design Your Garden
Now that you have a purpose and a site for your garden, it’s time to map it out. Working with a landscape designer is a huge help, but often not in the budget for most schools.
A little community outreach can go a long way at this point. Is there a parent or member of the community with experience in the area? Another great source of help comes from other schools with gardens. You may want to contact them and ask who helped them with their design.
At this point, you’ll also be deciding what to plant. Be sure to keep the climate in your area in mind and check sources to see what grows best.
You may also want to consider a mix of plants that bear fruit quickly and those that you won’t be harvesting for quite some time. Nurturing plants over a long period of time teaches children patience and provides diversity in your garden.
You may also want to consider planting flowers as they make your garden an even more beautiful place and provide further opportunities for learning.
Raise Funds and Secure Sponsorship
Now that your vision of the garden is coming into focus, it’s time to consider some funding. If the school budget doesn’t allow for it, traditional fundraisers like bake sales can help your garden grow. But there are also other sources to consider.
For example, some local businesses (such as garden centers) may be willing to donate materials in exchange for some recognition on the project.
Crowdsourcing is another option. Sites like GoFundMe could be a great way to jump-start your project.
You may also want to contact local service groups who may be interested in volunteering on the project or making a monetary donation.
Furthermore, there are organizations across the United States that offer funding resources and information about school gardens.
Here are a few to check out:
Now Dig In!
It may take a little planning to bring your garden together, but what it teaches children will last them a lifetime. Growing their own fruits and vegetables helps kids form a healthy bond with both nature, food and each other.
Now it’s time to put your budding farmers to work! Happy gardening, everyone!
You might also be interested in: How to Start a Patio Garden (Gardening Without a Yard)