As students sow, grow, and reap the fruits of school gardens, science and math lessons are naturally relevant. But consider the added possibilities for using school plots as a compelling lens for social studies and history. After all, exploring how food is (and has been) raised, transformed, and consumed across the globe can reveal a lot about communities and cultures, economies, human settlement and migration, changing world views, the influence of geography and climate, and more. In the process, students connect to the source of our sustenance, appreciate human diversity, and explore what makes food systems tick. What’s more, as they sample their way through these themes, they just might opt to give healthful new edibles a shot.
The following lesson ideas and resources from the field might inspire you to tend to some new learning goals in your schoolyard plot.
Food Journey Sleuths. Invite students to explore the journey of produce from farm to table and chew on the idea of eating close to home. See Food Roots and Routes.
Harvest festivals. Have students explore the role of harvest festivals – past and present – in different cultures and in their own community. They can then create a school harvest festival that features their own crops and prepared foods, presentations by local farmers, and more. See Home in on Historic Harvest Festivals and Plan a School Harvest Festival.
People and Plants Through History. Explore the dynamic relationship between humans and plants, past and present. This can provide a hook for exploring history and appreciating human diversity and traditions. Look for background materials and lesson ideas in this article: Ethnobotany: The People/Plant Connection.
New World/Old World Foods. Explore the impact of the exchange of food crops between the New World and Old World after Spain’s discovery of the Americas. This lesson plan, Food and the Columbian Exchange, was linked to the PBS series, When Worlds Collide: The Untold Story of the Americas After Columbus.
Garden-Related Service Learning. Inspire your class to take on food- or garden-related service-learning projects. As they become active, socially responsible members of their communities, they’ll practice civic values and learn firsthand what democracy looks and feels like. This article has ideas for getting started: Service Learning: Helping Kids and Communities Grow.
Food Systems Feed the World. In this lesson from Utah’s Ag in the Classroom program, students explore what it takes to get foods from farms to forks and they consider the concept of hunger.
Organic, Slow, or Local: Exploring Food-Based Communities. In this lesson from the New York Times, older students examine communities that come together around shared beliefs about food and food production.
Grow a School Garden Business. As students plan a business and price, pack, advertise, respond to demand, and more, they explore economics principles. Here you’ll find profiles of fertile entrepreneurial school ventures and strategies for engaging students in thinking and acting like business people: Growing a School Garden Business.
Other ideas for linking school gardens and social studies standards:
Create a garden timeline.
Create maps of the garden, area farms, or a range of local food sources.
Invite students to examine the role of agriculture in their community’s history.
Track weather in the school garden and examine the impact of weather and climate on food and agriculture systems.
Set up a school garden exchange to explore how climate and other factors affect what can be grown in a region. Use NGA’s school garden registry or another means of connecting with young gardeners in a different region. Compare differences in planting, harvest, and frost dates; average monthly temperatures and precipitation; and other factors. Have students use their data and maps to identify and interpret patterns.
More Web Links
The Food Museum. An online museum honoring the world's foods, this site features an engaging look at what we eat and how we eat it. It includes colorful histories, food news and issues, and educators' resources.
The Food Timeline. Colorful histories of every imaginable food are detailed in this Information-rich resource. It's organized by when each food first appeared: eggs in prehistory, popcorn in 3600 BC, tear-free onions in 2002 — and everything in between. Also see the related K-12 Resources for Food History Lessons.
Fresh from the World... Where Your Food Comes From. An interactive Web site for third through fifth graders.
Cooking With Kids. This bilingual (English/Spanish) food and nutrition curriculum for grades K-6 features hands-on multidisciplinary lessons centered on preparing and tasting fresh affordable foods from diverse cultures.
Farm to Table & Beyond. This fifth and sixth grade curriculum, developed by educators at Columbia Teacher’s College, covers our global food system and how the parts of this complex system interact with and influence each other.
Seeds of Change Garden. A content-rich site about the food plant exchange resulting from Columbus's voyages. Features plant histories, school gardening advice, cross-cultural garden recipes, more.
More classroom stories, profiles, and lesson ideas from Kidsgardening:
Creating a Three Sisters Garden: Discovering a Native Trio
Historic Herbal Theme Gardens
Food Plant Life Stories: Exploring Colorful Histories
Celebrating a Historical Harvest
Cultivating History Lessons