In 1995, California Superintendent of Public Education Delaine Eastin declared there should be a garden in every school to “create opportunities for children to discover fresh food, make healthier food choices and become better nourished.”
Since then, research supporting these and other benefits of school gardens have been well documented. Here are a few important benefits of school gardens for children both now and in their future.
Healthy eating and nutrition
Studies have shown that children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. Or, as Ron Finley, a “guerrilla gardener” in South Central Los Angeles says, “If kids grow kale, kids eat kale. If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes.”
In addition, they are more likely to continue healthy eating habits throughout their lives. Eating fruits and vegetables in childhood is an important predictor of higher fruit and vegetable consumption as an adult.
I cannot go through the fall season without having a pomegranate. I have fond memories of my grandma breaking open a homegrown pomegranate on the sidewalk and eating the red, ripe, sweet seeds with her.
In one nationwide survey of 2,004 respondents, people who reported picking vegetables, taking care of plants or living next to a garden in childhood were more likely to continue gardening as an adult and have a lasting positive relationship with gardens and trees. Furthermore, the walking, bending and moving that gardening requires is a fun way for children to exercise.
Science achievement and attitudes toward learning
School gardens have been referred to as “living laboratories.” Any concepts and skills from virtually any subject can be learned through a garden. School gardens are places where children can build vocabulary, learn math, sing a song, create art and learn about the life cycles. The hands-on learning that school gardens provide are a link between the concepts students are learning in the classroom and real life applications.
Although most research has been between school gardens and nutrition education, there are studies supporting the benefits of school gardens and the increase in science achievement scores. One such study showed students who participated in school gardening activities had improved attitudes toward learning and scored significantly higher on science achievement tests than students who did not participate in any gardening activities.
School gardens are a way to increase science literacy not just for students interested in a science career, but for all students in today’s knowledge-based society.
Increases environmental stewardship
School gardens connect children to nature and to where their food comes from. Gardens help students see the interconnection of living and non-living components of life. Children are given the opportunity to get their hands dirty and witness one of the miracles of life, watching a seed grow into a plant.
For many children, urban or suburban, a school garden is the only place that they are able to get their hands dirty and be in nature. Researchers have discovered that the bacteria in the soil helps build a strong immunity system and helps the brain develop.
School gardens also teach students the importance of recycling green waste by having the students build compost piles using the left over school’s cafeteria food. Research has shown that participation in garden activities in childhood is the most important influence on adult environmental attitudes and actions.
Vince Zazueta is a Garden-Based Community Educator who lives in El Centro and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on this topic or how to start a school garden visit the web sites listed below.