Schools Add Outdoor Classes

Federally mandated wellness policy leads charge to add outdoor activities and experiences to children's lives.

| January/February 2008

  • iClassroom_BoyAndPlant Parnell

  • iClassroom_BoyAndPlant

School children no longer have to stare out a classroom window to catch a glimpse of Mother Nature; instead they spend part of their educational time in the great outdoors. The Healthy Schools Project, a California initiative aimed at providing hands-on learning experiences, is behind the trend at Sunset Elementary School in Oak View. Students care for the school’s garden and orchard, harvest fruit and vegetables and make compost, among other things.

While California leads the nation in school gardening, with about 30 percent of that state’s schools offering the opportunity to garden, other states are doing the same, says Rose Hayden-Smith, the chairperson of the University of California Garden-Based Learning Workgroup.

“This is a national phenomenon,” Hayden-Smith says. “If you look at the history of school gardening programs, there have been periods when it’s been very prominent and then less prominent, but we have seen a lot of interest since the early 1990s.”

She reported on the movement during Gardens for All in Des Moines, Iowa. The conference’s aim was to explore the means of bringing gardening and its benefits to the attention of policy makers.

Lessons learned in the garden carry over into the classroom, says Janet Brown, program officer for food systems at the Center of Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California. Students build skills in math, biology, nutrition, culture and cuisines when they garden.

“The instructional garden is a living laboratory where insights abound and where students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom,” Brown says.
Studies at Texas A&M University found students involved in gardening programs were more enthusiastic about learning and more likely to become involved in their community.

Jean Teller
6/23/2009 3:39:15 PM

Whether they live in small cities or huge metropolitan areas, many urban children (and their parents) lack the opportunity and means to garden, so in this case, I can't find fault in a federal mandate. As we know, getting one's hands dirty, planting and watching vegetables and flowers grow is good for everyone of any age. If an outdoor classroom helps a child learn about nature, about growing and harvesting food, about flavorful and local foods - and gets that child outdoors for a while - I'm all for it.

Dennis Miller
6/21/2009 6:03:21 PM

That is a shame that the fed's have to tell public schools that gardening is beneficial to children. And then mandate that they force the students to dig up the dirt and shove seed in the ground. I am so blessed that the Lutheran School where my son attends is without the jurisdiction of Washington D.C. Us, the parents, teach our kids, and then furthered by the school, about farming and how life is dependent upon the crops grown by the various countries around the world. There is nothing better that a local, home grown education.

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