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Garden-based learning

Garden-based learning

14 January, 2016

Garden-based learning (GBL) encompasses programs, activities and projects in which the garden is the foundation for combined learning, in and across disciplines, through active, engaging real-world experiences that have personal meaning for children, youth, adults and communities.

Garden-based learning is basically an instructional strategy that uses the garden as a teaching tool. The practice of garden-based learning is a growing global phenomenon. In some settings it is the educational curriculum and in others it supports or enriches the curriculum. Nevertheless, garden-based learning has been viewed as contributing to all aspects of basic education, including academic skills, personal development, social development, moral development, vocational and/or subsistence skills, and life skills.

Benefits of garden-based learning among children and youth

Landscape designers, teachers, and others consider children’s gardens to be one of the most distinguished positive trends in the nation today. These environments can foster science literacy and social skills, while improving the awareness on the link between plants in the landscape and our clothing, food, 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 advantages of garden-based learning programs among youth include increased nutrition awareness, environmental awareness, higher learning accomplishments, and increased life skills.

Increased nutrition awareness Research indicates that youth who participate in garden-based learning programs have increased their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and gained new enthusiasm for fresh, nutritious vegetables they grew. Teachers also regarded the garden to be very effective at enhancing academic performance, physical activity, language arts, and healthful eating habits.

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

Higher Learning Achievements Studies indicate that students that joined 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 hands-on classroom activities help enhance science achievement test scores.

Increased Life Skills Research has highlighted the increased life skills attributed to children’s garden programs: enhances moral education, increases appreciation for nature, increases responsibility, develops patience, increases in relationship skill, increases self-esteem, helps students develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, and helps foster relationships with family members.

Core uses for garden-based learning beyond basic education

  1. Community Development
    Gardens often serve as a focal point for community dialogue, capacity building, and partnerships
    Gardens frequently organize individuals for action – for water delivery, cooperatives, and transportation
  2. 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 making food policy
  3. Sustainable Development
    Gardens are suitable arena to introduce children to the interconnections that link nature to economic systems and society
  4. Vocational Education
    Gardens show a historic and contemporary model for developing vocational skills in agriculture, natural resource management, and science
  5. School Grounds Greening
    Gardens gives practical productive strategies to transform sterile school grounds into attractive and productive learning centers
    Hands-on activities in outdoor classrooms make learning more interesting while demonstrating other advantages such as decreased absenteeism and discipline problems

Core uses for garden-based learning in basic education

  1. Academic Skills
    To support core academic training, particularly in science and math – real world hands on experiences
    Enhancement 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
  2. Personal Development (Mental & Physical)
    To add a sense of excitement, adventure, emotional impact and aesthetic appreciation to learning
    To enhance nutrition, diet and health
    To teach the art and science of cooking with fresh products from the garden or local farms
    To re-establish the celebratory nature of a shared meal
  3. Social & Moral Development
    To teach sustainable development
    To teach ecological literacy and/or environmental education
    To teach the joy and dignity of work
    To teach respect for public and private property
  4. Vocational and/or Subsistence Skills
    To teach basic skills and vocational competencies
    To produce food and other commodities for subsistence consumption and trade
  5. Life Skills

To teach about food and fiber production
To involve children in community service and environmental care
To engage students in lessons of leadership and decision making

Keys to successful garden-based learning programs

Research has specified that successful garden-based learning programs demonstrate high levels of youth development and leadership, community development and involvement, and participatory evaluation as a regular program feature. Programs are considered to be more successful when children and youth are involved in the entire process of the school gardening program (planning, design, implementation, and evaluation).

8 unique features of garden-based learning programs that develop positive qualities in youth:

  1. The program has a positive focus
  2. Youth are viewed not as “objects” but as “resources,” and have a voice in program planning, development, implementation
  3. There is a stress on proactive behavior
  4. Participants “own” accountability for their own behavior
  5. The program is inclusive (“involves everyone”)
  6. The program builds a vision
  7. Cooperation is highlighted
  8. “Hope” is a norm in the program environment or atmosphere