Habitat gardening at school and at home

Watering plants ©Janet AllenEven a two-year-old can water plants

Fortunately, there are increasing resources available for teachers and schools who want to teach children about nature through gardening. (And check out the wealth of science and citizen science resources for kids.)

What struck me, though, is how many more school wildlife gardens there appear to be in the UK compared to the US. Why?

I suspect the most effective programs would be those that are tightly tied to the curriculum. They would be used the most, would most effectively achieve their goals, and, in the case of gardens, would be least likely to be "accidently" mowed down. In other words, the gardens outside the building would be as much a part of the school's mission as what happens inside the school building.

Part of the curriculum

Exploring mulch ©Janet AllenMulch is interesting even to little kids

Gardens are more than just extras niceties that are fun for children and teach a few things about nature. They provide obvious opportunities for teaching science and math. But they can be so much more than that!

They can be beautiful venues for music recitals or for performing plays. They can incorporate beautiful little places to read. They can be the source of exciting story starters for language arts. They provide beautiful subjects for art class. They're obvious places for holding physical education activities—the kind of activities that can be lifelong activities, rather than organized sports.

I myself was always interested in learning about exercise for health, but all they taught was sports, which was of no interest to me!!

Special benefits for special kids

A green space ©Janet Allen
A peaceful green space

Not every child is well-suited to book-learning and sitting in classrooms—not even all bright children!

For some children, creating or preserving natural areas or growing delicious food may be one of the few times in school where they can be and feel successful. Skills they develop in the gardens may be the most useful of their school experiences and may even lead to a lifelong career.

And not all children are suited for the hustle and bustle of modern school settings. Contemplative children might benefit greatly from having a quiet space to retreat to.

Habitat gardening resources for schools

Playing in mud ©Janet Allen
Playing in mud

I've listed science and citizen science for children here, but these are some of the resources about gardening for kids:

  • Wild Ones: Seeds for Education program. Not only does this website provide information and links to other resources, but it also awards grants to help good projects get started.
  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology: BirdSleuth K-12's Habitat Connections - The goal is to connect young people with their local habitats in order to build their scientific and environmental literacy. The kit addresses key science standards through school-based and outdoor experiences focused on birds and their habitat needs.
Child in the woods ©Janet Allen
Exploring the woods
Child playing with soil ©Janet Allen
Even a 1-yr-old can play with soil

Gardens for pollinators and butterflies

Studying a bee ©Janet Allen
Studying a bee

Why focus on pollinators and/or butterflies?

Butterflies appeal to most everyone, of course, but other pollinators such as our native bees are extremely important for the health of our world and for our own food supplies.

Kids need to learn to appreciate pollinators!

But are bees too dangerous for kids to be around?

Edible school gardens

Eating kale ©Janet AllenChecking out some fresh kale

Alice Waters: The Edible Schoolyard - They offer many resources such as Making Mathematics Delicious for middle school for example.

Book: How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers by Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle ($)

Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture: School Gardens from Urban Agriculture Notes published by City Farmer, an interesting series of programs

Civil Eats: What happens when you teach math in the garden