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School Gardens

How installing a school vegetable garden can raise students' test scores, increase environmental awareness and help combat the obesity epidemic. (5-minute video)

The Problem(s)

The lack of quality environmental education in schools negatively affects individual health, the environment, the economy, and the planet:

  • 83% of the U.S. population now lives in metropolitan areas. Most children thus have little contact with nature. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2006)
  • The average American child spends, on average, four to seven minutes each day playing outside. (Hofferth, Sandberg, 1999)
  • The average American child spends an average of eight hours per day in front of some kind of electronic screen. (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010)
  • 30% of American children between the ages of 2-19 are overweight or obese.
  • The number of Americans with diabetes skyrocketed over the last 15 years, as diabetes cases rose by 50 percent or more in 42 different states – and by 100 percent or more in 18 states – during that time period.
  • One out of eight American children take medication to combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
  • A 2009 study found that U.S. students ranked 25th among 34 countries in math and science, behind nations like China, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Finland.
  • Students in Latvia, Chile and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate. Researchers estimate that gains made by students in those 11 countries equate to about two years of learning.
  • American students' low performance and slow progress in math could threaten the country's economic growth, experts say.
  • The average American uses twice the natural resources of the average Frenchman, German, or Englishman and twelve times the natural resources of a person living in Pakistan, India, or Vietnam.
  • Americans constitute 5% of the world's population yet consume 24% of the world's energy resources.

One Solution: Build Outdoor Garden Classrooms!

Some of the surprising benefits discovered from integrating an outdoor garden classroom into the school curricula:

Positive Effects on Test Scores:

  • In a study conducted among 800 students in 4th and 8th grades in a low-income area of Louisiana, students who learned many of their lessons in math, science, reading and social studies by integrating a school garden into the curricula increased their test scores by 15% in reading, 20% in math, and 15% in social studies. (National Wildlife Federation, 2010).
  • In a study conducted among 630 students at an elementary school in Kentucky, among grades 1-6, students' test scores improved by 25% in science, 21% in reading, and 40% in social studies after integrating a school garden into the curricula. (National Wildlife Federation, 2010)
  • Numerous studies point to school gardens as a means of improving academic achievement, promoting healthy lifestyles, demonstrating the principles of stewardship, encouraging community and social development, and instilling a sense of place. (from How to Grow a School Garden, p. 23)
  • Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening. ( 2003.pdf)
  • Exposure to environment-based education significantly increases student performance on tests of their critical thinking skills. (10.4 Environmental Education Research, Nov. 2004.)
  • In a review of 40 schools in 12 states, comparing classrooms that used the environment as an integrating context for learning with non-integrating classrooms, researchers found that enthusiasm for learning, standardized test scores, and GPAs were higher in 92% of the comparisons--particularly in language arts, social studies, science, math, and thinking skills. (Lieberman and Hood, 1998)
  • In a comprehensive review of 20 years of literature on school garden programs, 93% of the studies reported improved student performance in science, 80 percent saw improvement in math and 72 percent noted improvement in language arts (Williams and Scott Dixon, 2013)

Positive Effects on Nutrition, Health & Behavior:

  • Exposure to a school garden increases students' interest in eating fruits and vegetables and also improves attitudes towards fruits and vegetables. (Pothukuchi, K. 2004)
  • Exposure to a school garden increases children's vegetable consumption and the variety of vegetables eaten. (Ratcliffe, M.M., et al., 2011)
  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables in childhood leads to higher fruit and vegetable consumption as adults and can help to prevent or delay chronic disease conditions. (Heimendinger, J. & M. Van Duyn. 1995)
  • A garden-based nutrition curricula improves students' nutrition knowledge and preferences for vegetables. (Morris, JL and Zidenberg-Cherr, S. 2002)
  • A one-year school garden program at an elementary school improved life skills, including working with groups and self-understanding. (Robinson, C.W., and J. M. Zajicek. 2005)
  • School gardening has been shown to increase self-esteem, help students develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, help foster relationships with family members, and increase parental involvement. (Alexander & Hendren, 1988)
  • Researchers at University of Illinois report findings that indicate exposure to natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be "widely effective" in reducing attention deficit symptoms (ADHD) in children.
  • Children with learning disabilities, who participated in gardening activities, had enhanced nonverbal communication skills, developed awareness of the advantages of order, learned how to participate in a cooperative effort, and formed relationships with adults. (Sarver, 1985)

Positive Effects on Environmental Knowledge and Awareness:

  • Elementary school and junior high school students gained more positive attitudes about environmental issues after participating in a school garden program. (Waliczek, T.M., Zajicek, J.M., 1999)
  • Children's active and passive interaction with plants instills appreciation and respect for nature that lasts into adulthood. (Lohr, V.I. and C.H. Pearson-Mims. 2005)

Green Our Planet
School Gardens

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Recommended Reading

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." - Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

"The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do." - Galileo (1564-1642)

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." - Cicero (106-43 B.C.)