It’s as if the retractable classroom ceiling opened up and the rain came in. The garden came alive with activity in the wet weather.
Through collaboration this year, Blandford has had the opportunity to work with two area schools to start their school gardens. Godfrey Lee Public Schools and West Side Christian School both have space designated for growing garden plants.
Months ago, the while snow was falling outside, the schools shared their goals for their garden spaces. During the cold winter, I met with Aaron Snippe, Blandford’s Farm Manager, to help plan and supply the schools with their starter plant needs.
Later when the appropriate time for planting arrived, each school’s starter plants were ready to go.
Any school could look beyond their walls to creating this powerful space for student learning.
It’s easy to dig in to growing a garden classroom, here’s some advice (from Texas A & M University Aggie Horticulture):
- Seek help from at least one colleague, parent or community member who is into organic gardening, even if you’re an experienced gardener. Having extra hands really helps
- Evaluate your site
- does it get a minimum of six hours of full sun per day?
- is there easy access to water?
- is it close enough to classrooms to get used? (out of sight could become out of mind)
- can it be protected from marauding visitors of the two-legged and four-legged varieties?
- Test the soil texture, drainage, and composition (this can be part of a science lesson)
- Plan/design your garden according to your site and your goals (be sure to use some plants that will produce before the summer break and lots that will be ready when the students return)
- do you want a separate plot or raised bed for each class?
- do you want to include garden plots for community members?
- do you want a greenhouse or cold frame to extend your growing season?
- will you include a compost area?
- will you need a tool shed?
- do you want to incorporate an outdoor classroom area and/or shade structure?
Once a plan is in place, the school planting days become an exciting event for participating students. At their school sites the older students were paired with younger students for planting day; working together, they observed, recorded observations and planted their plant.
Some challenges that may arise when creating school gardens can be in regards to the contradiction between school calendars and the agricultural calendar. A frequently asked question is, “What will happen when the school is out for the summer?”
By understanding specific plant characteristics and growing patterns, certain plants may be used at certain times in order to have successful harvests. For example, there are early spring varieties, such as lettuce, kale, radishes, and peas, which could be planted and harvested during spring months due to their quick growing habits, while other plants, such as winter squash and pumpkins, would be ready for schools to harvest in the fall after their summer break.
Another commonly wondered issue is who will tend the garden during the summer months? Both Godfrey Lee Public School and West Side Christian School offer summer programming, in which the garden is cared for by the schools’ students throughout the summer. However, if your school does not have that option, it is simple to enlist the help of some school neighbors or parents. A great way to attract them into caring for the garden is to offer a portion of the harvest to them to enjoy in return for their help and greatly appreciated labor.
Also important to note, it’s okay if the garden plants eventually die, that’s a learning lesson too (the circle of life).
School gardens provide a rich enhancement to a child’s learning by offering a wide variety of developmental benefits. They are a wonderful way to use the schoolyard as a classroom, which connects students to the natural world and the true source of their food, as well as teaches students valuable gardening and agriculture concepts and skills. These skills can integrate with several subjects students are already learning, such as math, science, art, health or physical education, and social studies, as well as adhere to several educational goals, including personal and social responsibility.
I’ll be sharing more about what this looks like, so stay tuned!
In the next post, I’ll share some research behind all the benefits – beyond the obvious benefit of growing great food – in case you or your school community needs some more convincing to grow a garden classroom.
We’d love to hear from you! Does your school have a garden? What are the benefits and challenges? Imagine what the world would be like if every school had a growing garden classroom!