Research proving in concrete terms that school gardens boost scores on standardized tests is hard to find. And it isn’t typically too difficult to poke holes in the occasional studies that make assertions along those lines. That said, a considerable body of work looking at school gardens and other efforts to bring teaching and learning outdoors paints a picture of great potential in garden and outdoor classroom initiatives. Such research, thus, could be important where academic results are especially discouraging.

Research that might be seen as relevant to the Vegetable Project’s work at Albany schools, and especially its proposal to develop an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School, mostly fits into one of three groupings – reports that explore connections between gardens and academic performance, reports that seek to determine if there are connections between gardens and fruit and vegetable consumption and reports that make connections between interaction with nature and wellbeing in a most generalized way. The third grouping likely has the broadest implications.

School gardens and academic performance: Pinning down connections between school gardens and educational outcomes is challenging, due to the myriad approaches to gardening programs and difficulty in observing large enough samples with appropriate control groups over a long enough time. Numerous studies, however, point in a positive direction.

Louisiana State University researchers found that a garden-based curriculum boosted science grades in Baton Rouge elementary schools. (more to come)

School gardens and healthy eating: Texas A&M researchers found students eating more fruits and vegetables for snacks after exposure to a garden curriculum. (more to come)

Nature and healthy children: Many and quite varied investigations, some in educational settings and some elsewhere, suggest that nature may be a powerful force for healthy human development, whether seen as social and emotional health, resiliency, sustained attention or impulse control, each of which would seem to provide critical foundation for success in school. “There is a substantial body of literature demonstrating the cognitive and psychological benefits of natural environment experiences,” says Nancy M. Wells, an environmental psychologist at Cornell.

Researchers with the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have been exploring the intersection of access to nature and health for more than 20 years. Frances E. Kuo, the program director, found early on that people in poverty living in public housing with significant nearby vegetation coped better with life’s challenges than people living in similar housing without nearby vegetation. “Regular contact with nature may be as important to our psychological and social health as the regular consumption of fruit and vegetables is to our physical health,” Kuo wrote. Similarly, Kuo and colleagues found relationships between vegetation at public housing and lower incidence of crime, lower incidence of domestic violence and greater ability among teenage girls to defer gratification. (have so much more)