Garden-Based Learning - Gardens For Children

Graphic created from a public photo of a mural.
Article adapted from several entries in Wikipedia

Nature's Classroom

"I believe that love of Nature, curiosity, and a need for knowing how and why, are born in the soul of a child." ~ Me.

Garden-based learning is an instructional strategy that utilizes the garden as a teaching tool.
(GBL) encompasses programs, activities and projects in which the garden is the foundation for integrated learning, in and across disciplines, through active, engaging, real-world experiences that have personal meaning for children, youth, adults and communities in an informal outside learning setting. 

The practice of garden-based learning is a growing global phenomenon, largely seen in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. As of 2010, the National Gardening Association reported over 3,000 school gardens in the United States alone.

In some settings, garden-based learning strategies are used entirely as the educational curriculum for multiple subjects and in others, it supports or enriches the curriculum. Garden-based learning can contribute to all aspects of basic education on varying levels, depending upon the student and consistency of the garden-based learning program. 

Aspects of basic education benefits include but are not limited to academic skills, personal development, social development, moral development, vocational and/or subsistence skills, and life skills.

These environments can foster science literacy and social skills, while enhancing an awareness of the link between plants in the landscape and our food, clothing, shelter, and well-being.

Gardening projects provide children and youth with the carefree exploration of the natural world that occurs rarely in today's era of indoor living; it can also give young people the chance to develop a wide range of academic and social skills.

Noted benefits of garden-based learning programs among youth include increased nutrition awareness, environmental awareness, higher learning achievements, and increased life skills.

Increased nutrition awareness


Research indicates that youth who participate in garden-based learning programs increase their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and gain new enthusiasm for fresh, nutritious vegetables they grow. It is the physical act of having the students' plant their own fruits and vegetables that gives them ownership and gets them more involved in their learning. Students can then learn about the nutritional values of food and multiple ways to prepare their own products in healthy ways to further progress their awareness of health issues. These two examples of physical acts of learning are what motivate healthier eating choices in and outside of the school setting.

Student Health

Teachers also regarded the garden as being very effective in enhancing academic performance, physical activity, language arts, and healthy eating habits. Garden-based learning attempts to combat obesity by introducing students to healthy foods and providing opportunities to for outside experiential learning. 

Gardening intervention in schools may also aid in the improved health of children for the simple reason that students get 20% or more of their daily food intake from school depending on their socio-economic backgrounds; families with lower income depending on school lunch even more than others.

Students and teachers have also reported that using GBL programs reduce stress. 
Reducing stress can result in increased mental health and boosted immune system. A boosted immune system means that the human body is stronger and heals more efficiently. 
This could help patients recovering from all diseases, wounds, illnesses and more. 

Hospitals and Primary care facilities would be ideal places to incorporate garden-based learning.

Increased environmental awareness

Research highlights that high school students gain more positive attitudes about environmental issues after participating in a school garden program. Gardening has also been shown to increase scores on environmental attitude surveys of elementary school children.

Environmental awareness and attitudes toward the environment is also seen to improve, especially in urban schools where the garden-based learning programs in the schools may be some of the only times these students can connect with the outdoors away from city streets.

Higher Learning Achievement

Studies indicate that students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests compared to students that did not experience any garden-based learning activities. 

Other research has indicated that weekly use of gardening activities and related classroom activities help improve science achievement test scores. The reasoning behind these improvements is connected to the holistic, integrated, hands-on, project based, cooperative and experiential learning activities that are all aspects of garden-based education. 

In other words, student engagement in class is increased because they are being intrinsically motivated by "real world" experiences in a more informal setting than the classroom. However, it is important to note the extent to which students improve varies because every student learns differently, and has preferred learning styles that work best for them.

Increased Life Skills

Research has highlighted the many improvements in life skills that can be attributed to children's garden programs. 
These skills include: enhancement of moral education, increasing appreciation for nature, increasing responsibility, developing patience, increases in relationship skills, and increases in self-esteem, helps students develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, and helps foster relationships with family members, peers, and their community.

Increased Education for the Disabled

Research has shown that Garden-based learning can help improve important aspects of learning for people with special needs. 
GBL is used with special ed students to improve memory and motor skills. 
Some disabled students are not able to learn outside, but GBL inoors has the same impact as it would outdoors. 
Hands-on projects like Garden-based learning have been used to access a higher learning level for some disabled or special ed students.

Keys to successful garden-based learning programs

Studies have shown that children benefit from garden-based learning programs. These benefits could include leadership growth, community involvement, and voluntary education which can lead to increased child development. Researched programs are more effective when one is to work through the entire process to understand how everything works and in what order. 

Features of garden-based learning programs that develop positive qualities in youth

  • Positive focus

  • Children allowed to 'lead the way' in some aspects throughout the process.

  • Proactive behavior

  • Responsibility

  • Gives different views of education/academics, or life itself.

  • Participation

  • Communication

Benefits of Garden-based learning

Basic education uses

Academic Skills

  • To support core academic training, particularly in science and math – real world hands on experiences

  • Enrichment of core curriculum in language arts through introduction of new learning landscapes

  • To support standards based education in countries with national or regional education standards

  • Teaching the biology of plant life and how it works.

Personal Development (Mental and Physical)

  • To add a sense of excitement, adventure, emotional impact and aesthetic appreciation of learning

  • To improve nutrition, diet and overall health

  • To teach the art and science of cooking with fresh products from the garden or local farms

  • To re-establish the nature of a shared meal

Social & Moral Development

  • To teach sustainable development

  • To produce food and other commodities for subsistence consumption and trade

  • To produce crops for food and shelter

Life Skills

  • To teach about food and fiber production in the garden

  • To engage children in community service and environmental care

  • To involve students in lessons of leadership and decision making

  • To involve students in voluntary beneficial situations

  • To improve problem solving

  • To improve critical thinking

Beyond basic education uses


  • To teach ecological literacy and/or environmental education

  • To teach the joy and dignity of work

  • To teach respect for public and private property

Vocational and/or Subsistence Skills

  • To teach basic skills and vocational competencies

Besides basic education uses, the gardens can be used for other worthwhile purposes.

Community Development

  • Gardens often serve as a focal point for community dialogue, capacity building, and partnerships through a shared community garden space.

  • Gardens often organize individuals for action – for water delivery, cooperatives, and transportation

Food Security

  • Gardens can address hunger at the individual, family, and community levels through planning, growing, and sharing

  • Gardens can be the beginning point for teaching and developing food policy

Sustainable Development

  • Gardens are an appropriate arena to introduce children to the interconnections that link nature to economic systems and society

Vocational Education

  • Gardens represent a historic and contemporary model for developing vocational skills in agriculture, natural resource management, and science

School Grounds Greening

  • Gardens provides practical productive strategies to transform sterile school grounds into attractive and productive learning centers through the process of greening

  • Hands-on activities in outdoor classrooms make learning more interesting while demonstrating other benefits such as decreased absenteeism and discipline problems

  • Can increase cognitive brain development.

Teachers, Mentors and Community Leaders:

Here are some excellent resources

Click to Download .pdf - "Sowing the Seeds of Success", Cornell University
This 28-page booklet details the organizational steps needed to initiate a gardening project that involves 
kids and the community, and to ensure program success over the long term. Key chapters highlight 
how to define roles and responsibilities, form and manage partnerships, create an identity, raise funds.

Click here to download .pdf 
"Getting Started: A Guide for Creating School Gardens as Outdoor Classrooms".
Center for Ecoliteracy and Life Lab Science Program

Easy Home Vegetable Garden For Kids

Click the pic below to downnload an easy children's vegetable garden in .pdf format.
Plan comes complete with the color illustration, plant list, and planting guide.


Recommended Reading Garden and Nature Based Learning in School and At Home

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