Local Pre-K Students Growing and Learning Through Gardening
Imagine a student planting a seed in their school’s garden, and just days later seeing a tiny leaf pushing up through the soil. This is exactly what 115 four-year olds at the Taylor County Pre-K are getting to experience during this school year. The students got to plant a bounty of broccoli, collards and mustards that they will harvest and get to eat. The local UF/IFAS Taylor County Extension Service assisted the students with the planting and providing plants for them. The school garden is used to engage the students in the outdoors and teach them about growing plants. The garden provides a wealth of opportunities for kids to get their hands dirty while learning lessons in many different areas. A recent study found that encouraging children to learn gardening boasts their development by helping them become happier, more confident, and more resilient. In addition, gardening also helps teach children patience and the benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Come harvest time, the students will be able to sample the produce grown and enjoy all their hard work.
How Do School Gardens Benefit Children?
Fruits and vegetables have many health benefits and are a key part of a child’s diet. These benefits include protection against obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers. Unfortunately less than half of children and teens eat enough fruits and vegetables every day. Studies have shown that children who work in a school garden are more likely to try new fruits and vegetables. In addition, many school cafeterias now serve fruits and vegetables grown in their school gardens, giving children a chance to eat local, fresh, and in-season produce.
Different Types of School Gardens
The type of garden you choose to plant will affect other parts of your plan, such as the budget and the supplies you need, so it is one of the first things you should consider.
This is a classic garden in which plants are grown directly in the ground. It has the lowest initial cost, but requires lots of open space with healthy soil. It is important to make sure the soil is not polluted. If your school is tight on space, another type of garden may work better.
Raised Bed Garden
Raised beds are a good idea if dirt quality or foot traffic are potential concerns. Plants in raised beds need more water, and the wood and supplies needed for this type of garden may increase costs. But think outside the box-even old pallets have been used to make raised beds.
Container gardens work well in schools that lack the space for a regular garden. Examples of suitable containers are plastic pots or a garden tower. Even an old bathtub or wheelbarrow can be used.
Hydroponic systems allow you to grow plants in water instead of dirt. There are many simple and cheap hydroponic systems that provide a fun learning opportunity for children.
Before any seeds can be planted, the school garden must be “grown” on paper. There are a few questions that need to be asked: Who is going to be in charge of planting and keeping up the garden, What kinds of plants should be grown, and what supplied do you need and how do you raise money to buy them. Once you have the answers to these questions, it will help make your gardening ideas a reality.
School gardens are full of benefits for children and teachers. Working in the garden can improve a child’s health and learning. A garden also is a great teaching tool that ties nature to reading, math, and science. Also, school gardens can be used to engage all types of students and make learning fun.
If you would like to know more about school gardens or gardening in general, contact your local Extension Office.
Lori Wiggins, UF/IFAS Extension Agent III