School gardens are living classrooms that provide students with an experiential, hands-on learning environment in which they can explore and actively participate in the process of growing food. Teachers use gardening activities to teach lessons across multiple disciplines. Students who participate in school gardens take pride in their accomplishments, have multiple opportunities to try new foods, learn healthy behaviors, and build an increased awareness of the environment.
Engage students in gardening:
- Get students excited about the growing process with a simple seed dissection using lima beans soaked in water. Refer to this lesson in Growing Healthy Habits for step by step instructions and a diagram of a seed.
- Explore seed germination using the Garden in a Glove activity, in which students will “plant” a seed in each finger of a clear food-prep glove and watch it sprout.
- Plant small container gardens by recycling food or beverage containers and thoroughly rinsing before planting.
- Engage students in gardening and a real-life water cycle experiment using the Salad Cup Terrarium. Students will observe the moisture in the soil, as it heats up and forms condensation around the lid, then cools and drops down to the soil again.
- Students will plant and observe seeds, as they sprout and grow into tiny edible gardens in a salad necklace. Once the leaves touch the lid, they can be cut with clean scissors, rinsed with clean water, and eaten.
- Take your school garden to the next level with container gardens. Select a garden container that works best for your space and grow a variety of plants using this list of vegetable crops for school container gardens.
- Determine if an indoor garden, container garden, raised bed, or in-ground garden is the best choice for your program using this garden comparison chart and select the best plants to grow in your garden with this guide.
- Teach rules for safe gardening, to keep gardeners happy and healthy, and ensure the food produced is safe for consumption.
Try new foods:
- Have students select different plants from seed catalogs that they wish to grow in a garden. Prepare tastings of these foods and have students vote on their favorites.
- Choose a location on the globe and select a new food from that region to taste. Have students inquire about how and where the food is grown and different ways it is used.
- Showcase the foods that were grown in the garden with a harvest party. Take photos throughout the year of students working with the gardens and prepare a slideshow during the harvest party. Invite parents to join the party and share the excitement of eating what was grown.
- Encourage students to play with their food, as they make a Garden on a Plate, using this recipe from Growing Healthy Habits.
Promote healthy behaviors from the garden:
- Encourage students to write public service announcements about the healthy food grown in the garden and read them over the morning announcements.
- Use the garden to provide physical activity during the school day by having students pull weeds, water, walk around the garden and make observations about the garden, harvest plants, and general garden maintenance.
- Have students compare how plants use water to grow and stay healthy with how people use water ask them to share their findings.
- Have students prepare tastings using food from the garden to share with their peers.
- Make food safety a priority in your school garden. Use these tip sheets with your garden to ensure food safety: Container Gardens, Tower Gardens, or Outdoor Gardens.
- Watch this video for more tips on planning a school garden.
- For additional resources to help cultivate a gardening program in your school, visit Life Lab.
- For grants, educator resources, and fun gardening ideas, visit Kids Gardening.Org
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