Photo courtesy of our friends at PS-41 in New York City. Students study plants on their rooftop garden.

Photo courtesy of our friends at PS-41 in New York City. Students study plants on their rooftop garden.

In celebration of Farm to School month, we’d like to focus on an integral part of farm to school programs: school gardens. Follow our step-by-step guide from gaining school approval to integrating lesson plans. School gardens offer a multitude of educational opportunities and health benefits, including building food literacy, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children, improving physical activity, forming positive relationships, and promoting environmental stewardship.

This is the fourth and final installment of our ‘Starting a School Garden’ series. In today’s post we will discuss using the garden as an educational resource and suggestions for garden curriculum. (Click here to read part 3, part 2 and part 1.)

Move the classroom to the schoolyard by using your garden as an academic tool. School gardens are perfect for any subject. Start brainstorming ways to incorporate your garden in different subjects. Below we’ve listed a few ideas to get you started!

Language Arts

Have students keep a journal documenting changes in the garden. Build their vocabulary by asking them to describe various plants. End the season by asking each student to write a short essay about their season in the garden: recap things they learned, what was most interesting or memorable, when did they feel good, when did they feel disappointed, what would they do differently next year, etc.

*Journals aren’t just for kids! Keeping a garden journal can remind adult gardeners what worked and what didn’t from year to year.

Art

Have students pretend they are botanists and draw what they see in the garden: plants, animals, bugs, soil, etc. Try different times of day to teach students how light can affect perspective. Draw things at different points in the season, such as the seed, sprout, plant, food (outside and inside). If plants get diseases or pests, draw them to learn more about them later.

Science

Your garden is an excellent place to teach students and animal life. Discuss plant structure by asking students to create and label diagrams. Discuss how climate affects what foods you choose to plant in your garden. Teach students about non-toxic pest and disease control and explore how they work. Do soil tests and discuss how soil nutrition affects plants in different ways. Let students research and recommend soil amendments and pest/disease treatments (and let them make mistakes if it won’t hurt anybody!).

History/Social Sciences

Introduce differences in food consumption by talking about geography and culture. What food is unique to your area and why? How has food consumption and/or cost changed over the years? Talk about hunger and ask students to think about how they could reduce hunger in their local community. Expand the conversation to world hunger and local food production.

Math

Have students measure plant growth throughout the year. Graph the results! Go to the local stores and record the costs of different foods. Then determine how much money different size families would save by growing some of their own food. Pretend the garden is a business and calculate your garden’s expenses and hypothetical profit under various economic conditions.

Health

Explain the nutritional benefits of eating fresh, healthy foods. Cook recipes using produce from your garden and have students sample. Do a blind tasting of vegetables that they grew compared to those purchased from a store and see if they can taste the difference. Learn to read food nutrition labels and compare them. Encourage students to get their hands dirty- it’s good for the immune system!

Remember that your lessons will need to meet state education standards. Eat.think.grow. and The Edible Schoolyard Project are great resources for lesson plans based on grade level. Use your garden as a starting point to teach students the importance of where their food comes from and how it affects our health and our planet.

Quick Tips for Teachers:

  • Keep garden lessons fun and hands-on.
  • Partner with other schools and local organizations or businesses for extra help and expertise.
  • Eat what you grow.
  • Showcase your results.

More resources for starting a school garden:

Farm to School Garden Fact Sheet

Let’s Move School Garden Check List


Read the full Starting a School Garden Series here.