Learning Gardens Feed the Future Minds of America


With childhood obesity on the rise nationwide, the benefits of connecting kids with real food in order to guide them towards better eating habits and nutrition are plentiful.

According to LetsMove.gov,

More than 31 million children are participating in the National School Lunch Program and more than 11 million participating in the National School Breakfast Program.”   

A recent study out of Ohio State University and Cornell University in New York found that children are five times more likely to eat salad when they have grown it themselves. With 95 percent of our youth enrolled in a school system, educators are in a unique position to encourage healthy eating with their students.

The researchers from Ohio State and Cornell monitored 370 students eating school lunches on three separate days with the idea of observing what they ate on their plates and what they left behind. 

According to a recent article in The Daily Mail,

On normal days just 2 percent of students added salad to their main meal, the researchers found. But when the salad ingredients were those grown by pupils in a school project, 10 percent of pupils chose the healthy option.”

Although this was an admittedly small study, it suggests that growing gardens can indeed help improve a child’s diet. And while nutrition alone is reason enough to advocate for more school gardens there are plenty of other incentives when it comes to feeding not only the body but also the minds of our youth.

A 2009 study found that U.S. students ranked 25th among 34 countries in math and science, putting us well behind nations like China, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Finland. Experts believe that this type of low performance could threaten the country's economic growth.

One surprising (or not so surprising) solution to our academic decline as a nation comes in the form of garden-based learning programs, which have begun sprouting up all over the country. The idea is to create activities in which the garden is the foundation for integrated learning.

Research has shown that this type of learning can span multiple disciplines, especially through active, engaging real-world experiences that have personal meaning for the child.

Organizations such as City Blossoms, a nonprofit operating in Texas and Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, and the REAL school garden program, work with schools to create "learning gardens which, train teachers to use the garden as a teaching tool."

According to a recent NPR article, these programs are able engage students and even boost their academics by utilizing gardens for lessons in math,

 — like calculating the area of a plant bed — or learning the science of how plants grow.”

In fact the REAL school garden, which keeps a close eye on the data coming out of their programs, reports that the numbers are promising. According to their website,

REAL School Gardens partner schools have seen standardized test score pass rates increase between 12% - 15%. Science scores saw the largest increases, placing students on a path for success in a professional job market that increasingly requires STEM skills.”

The site goes on to explain that when an independent research team was given the task of isolating their impact,

...at least 1/3 of the standardized test score pass rate increases were proven to be a direct result of the REAL School Gardens Program.”

Another study reviewed 40 schools in 12 states, comparing classrooms that used the environment as an integrating context for learning with non-integrating classrooms. Researchers found that not only did enthusiasm for learning increase in the classrooms that integrated the natural environment into their curriculum but standardized test scores, and GPAs were higher in 92 percent, particularly in language arts, social studies, science, math, and critical thinking skills.

The article in NPR goes on to explain how the kids of City Blossoms are also part of the real world business process, taking their bounty to the local farmers market and learning about public speaking, sales and money skills.

In a country where the average kid spends seven minutes a day playing outside and an average of eight hours a day behind some kind of electrical screen, the evidence is clear: getting our children outside and involved in what, how, and why we grow gardens can only benefit them and our nation.

More healthy diets lead to less obesity which leads to less healthcare costs. Practical hands-on learning outside leads to more interest in academics, which in turn leads to a better understanding of a subject matter, higher test scores and a more robust economy.

It’s a win-win situation. Now the only question we have to ask ourselves is why garden-based learning shouldn’t be a part of every school curriculum nationwide? There’s a little food for thought!

Image courtesy of SDCCS Facebook


Read all articles by Juniper Briggs

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