School gardeners offer lessons on teaching

Second graders, it appears, can get the grocery shoppers in their homes to buy more fruits and vegetables, university researchers say, at least when the young students have learned a bit about nutrition in a school garden program. It would be great to think that findings like these would encourage education policymaker regard for school gardening offerings, often the product of volunteer initiatives. Maybe they do, though few share that with us at the Vegetable Project if so. Either way, the challenge might be finding room on educators’ plates for something contributing as much to general wellbeing as to school subject-specific material when their plates are already so full with siloed school subject standards and state-driven curriculum.

And by the way, thanks or not to those standards and other state help, two-thirds of fourth and eighth graders are not proficient readers, according to U.S. Education Department testing. 

So the possibility that school garden programs spur kids to encourage their parents to put healthy food on the table prompts an idea: Maybe education thinkers should look at what school gardening programs have to offer in the way of thinking about how to teach. Maybe they’ll see kids stimulated by meaningfulness. Maybe they’ll see some of the potential in hands-on learning and making connections across school-subject boundaries and being outdoors and using five senses instead of just two. And maybe they’ll see students who don’t demonstrate curiosity in the traditional classroom perked up and asking question after question in a different environment.

This isn’t to say that we perform magic in our garden. But we do see kids trying greens, even right after insisting that they won’t. And we know that’s an important start. So when we stumble on research on this subject with a quality effort to compare control and experimental groups and with a large number of low-income students involved, we do take notice.

That said, it would be great to know whether the multi-university research that we cite here makes any impression at all, let’s say, at the New York state Education Department. Perhaps some of our friends who are employed at State Ed can share any insight they have on that with us.

–Bill Stoneman

One response to “School gardeners offer lessons on teaching