There are many challenges that you will likely face when starting up a school garden.  Beyond basic care of the garden, there are administrative challenges when starting a gardening project especially at a public school.   It is no small feat to get a school garden established but the impact of getting it established is not small either. You are dramatically improving the nutritional intake of students, creating an experiential learning environment, and facilitating a greater connection with where a child’s food comes from.

Administration will likely be reluctant to make any changes to the way a school operates.  Typically, administrators have more to handle than they have resources for already.  Money and liability concerns are going to be major for this group.  Be patient and understanding of these variables when proposing the garden.  Do not let this discourage you.

Teachers can also feel like they have an overly full plate as well.  Many parents may not understand the value of making any changes.  Consider these factors and have information ready to support your view.  I recommend having empirical data to support your proposal from multiple angles and noting the general trend of more schools utilizing gardens.  At the bottom of this page I listed some sources that you may find useful to this end.

Realize that you are working to change a social institution.  Creating such a big shift in any institution is not easy.   As human beings we rely on our culture, and institutions therein, to survive.  However, they are the most difficult attribute about us to change.  So be proud of any incremental progress made in this arena!

Lastly, a garden should bring people together.  So rather than letting a garden become a dividing issue, use it as a way to bring people together.  In gaining buy-in for the idea, I recommend starting with gaining support from a faculty member, a PTA member, and a person within administration if possible.  This way you have support from people within various groups of school operations. You can all work together from there to close the gaps and gain support.  Hopefully, you will make some great friends in the process as well and get to enjoy many beautiful days working in the garden together.

Some sources that may be helpful to you:

  • More nutritious food choices made by 2nd graders when taught in garden compared to traditional nutrition education methods:

Barbara Struempler, et al. “School Gardens: An Experiential Learning Approach For A  Nutrition Education Program To Increase Fruit And Vegetable Knowledge, Preference, And Consumption Among Second-Grade Students.” Journal Of Nutrition Education And Behavior41.3 (2009): 212-217. PsycINFO. Web. 3 May 2013.

  • Special needs children were shown to benefit from the implementation of a sensory garden in domains of their educational development and social interaction:

Hussein, Hazreena. “Using The Sensory Garden As A Tool To Enhance The Educational Development And Social Interaction Of Children With Special Needs.” Support For Learning 25.1 (2010): 25-31. PsycINFO. Web. 3 May 2013.

  • Experiential learning (learning by doing) was found to have a 75% learning retention rate compared to 11% retention from lectures:

A study conducted by Bethel Learning Institute http://aginnovations.org/images/uploads/call-to-action_GBL_final.pdf

  • Higher achievement levels in science (3rd -5th grade) when compared to traditional classroom teaching:

Klemmer, Cynthia Davis, Tina M. Waliczek, and Jayne M. Zajicek. “Growing minds: The effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students.” HortTechnology 15.3 (2005): 448-452.

“How to Grow a School Garden” by Bucklin-Sporer & Pringle has great information and factoids cited within it as well as practical information.

*be aware that teachers will be concerned about the additional time it will take to plan lessons in the garden, see the heading “A Learning Environment” under Gardens & Crops page to help with this*

If you would like to use one of the articles I cited above but are having trouble gaining access to them, just email me at heathermcmillin@gmail.com and I will send you the ones you want.  Or if you would like help finding some other information, email me as well and I would be happy to help!

Page Authored by: Heather A. McMillin

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