A few months ago, I went to Jacksonville to visit my daughter so I could spend some time with my grandsons. I was surprised to see a garden in her backyard with bell peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. I remember when she was a child living at home, I could not get her and her sisters to come out and help me in my backyard garden.
They would constantly complain about mosquito bites or the weather being too hot. I got to where I quit asking them to come out, but I noticed that they would still stand by the window ever so often just to admire the progress of the garden. I guess all the time they spent being passive gardeners did help guide their adult decisions.
One of the benefits of gardening is it teaches patience. I am so glad that I continued gardening and kept encouraging my kids not just to get out and help, but to see how things change as the seasons change.
Some kids may not be excited about working in a garden, mainly because they want to see things happen fast. But gardening is not a quick response activity and patience must be taught and cultivated.
A 2005 study by Robinson and Zajicek revealed a startling finding; after participating in a one-year gardening program as part of their school curriculum, children ages 8 to 11 showed a significant increase in the ability to work in groups compared to those children who didn’t participate at all.
Another study found that youth interns in community gardens reported increases in maturity and interpersonal skills and expressed an increased understanding of ecology and responsibility to care for the environment. That same study showed that children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, or at least express a preference for these foods.
Gardening can teach youth responsibility, patience, pride, self-confidence, critical thinking, and most important, the art of nurturing.
Kids learn best when engaging all their senses. With gardening, kids can touch and feel the dirt and seeds, see the vibrant colors and varied sizes of the plants, hear the sound of the vegetable when it is taken from the plant, and smell the amazing scents of the flowers. Allowing all the senses to be involved helps kids understand and grasp the concept of gardening along with all the math and scientific concepts that go along with it.
A couple years ago, Extension held a summer camp where we brought in elementary school students to introduce them to the basic tenets of gardening. Looking back now, I remember the thing that got them wide-eyed and excited was the field trip to a farm, where they were allowed to dig in the soil to harvest potatoes. I was surprised that the simple activity of digging in the dirt could provide so much joy to a child.
All of us stand to gain from getting kids in the garden and it seems like it should be obvious that gardening programs should be incorporated into the school’s curriculum.
However, the idea of a permanent school garden does not seem to go well with some schools for varying reasons. Kids will usually do whatever is asked of them. But it is the adults, especially those in leadership positions, that need to be trained to be able to differentiate between the facts and myths of gardening.
Although getting kids interested in gardening can be challenging, it is gathering funds, labor, volunteers – and most importantly – buy-in from the administration, that can be the biggest challenge.
UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, along with other collaborators, can offer advice and assistance with gardening at schools, funding options, curriculum resources, and occasionally offer teacher-specific garden trainings.
If your school is in Leon County and you are interested in starting a school garden, consider applying for a Leon County School Stakeholder Garden Grant through Leon County’s Office of Sustainability (http://cms.leoncountyfl.gov/growinggreen/Green-Topics/Community-Gardens).