One Stop for Your Garden-Based Education: A Garden in Every (Home)School
Keep your Students Learning over the Winter Break!
Here are some fun activities you can send home with your students over the winter break to keep them engaged. You may even consider encouraging your students to get their parent's involved and complete these activities by offering extra credit when they return from winter break.
Successful school gardening with kids in any situation requires a set of great resources. Having resources that enable you to seamlessly use the garden to enhance the core curricular areas makes your job, as the teacher, that much easier.
According to homeschooler, Heather Reed, of Texas, one of the things she appreciates most about homeschooling her four children is the “flexibility to go out in the world and discover it!” As a member of a homeschool cooperative, Heather researched homeschool methods and determined to use unit studies for her children’s education. This popular method provides a topic to explore the various subjects. Heather identifies one downside to the use of unit studies, being that they are not all-inclusive. For example, Heather chooses which books she will use for literacy lessons from a recommended list and has to either check them out at a library or purchase them herself. Additionally, she states that neither literature nor math is provided in the studies. This means homeschooling educators have to supplement the material for these subjects with other resources.
The National Gardening Association recognizes that whether you are a homeschool, private, or public school educator, there is a need for supplemental materials to adapt, construct, and expand core subject curricula. In order to help fill this need, with “real world” connections, NGA offers a number of amazing resources to inspire and educate individuals of any age. While the activities are based in the school or community garden, the curricular content is aligned with national standards. In an educational environment, teaching in the garden is a great way to bring the curriculum to life. Here is a thorough list of Classroom Projects that can be used in a variety of educational venues.
Supplementing the Curriculum in a Homeschool
Teaching math through gardening is a natural fit. You and your students are constantly performing mathematical calculations by determining the percentage of seeds that sprouted, counting back from the last frost date for planting a new crop, and many other tasks in the garden. When planning your homeschool’s field trips, consider including a visit to the local farmer’s market. In preparation for this field trip, educate your students about money and budgeting. Then while at the farmer’s market students can select which items they can purchase based on a budget they set. Another benefit of visiting the farmer’s market is the interaction your student(s) will have with local farmers who can share their growing knowledge. Students can learn the value of regularly consuming locally-grown, fresh produce giving this math lesson a nutrition component. For more ideas of ways you can integrate math into the garden, here are some resources you may be interested in exploring:
- Math in the Garden: Hands-on Activities That Bring Math to Life (Ages 5-13)
- Farmer’s Markets are for Families: An article written for families by NGA staff to bring education into the real world.
- Building a Maze: Another NGA article designed for integrating math into the garden through mazes.
The scientific explorations to be done in the garden are endless. Students can easily set up and conduct experiments through their own inquiries from the garden. You can teach your student(s) the components of experimentation including variables, controls, making hypotheses, describing the steps for experimentation, conducting experiments, and making conclusions. One topic that suits experimentation nicely is plant propagation. Through plant propagation experiments, students can discover which plants grow best when started from seed, which prefer to be propagated by stem/leaf cuttings, and which need to be divided. Separate your students into groups. If you have a small class or perhaps only one student in your class, work with the student(s) to carry out the experiment set-up. Choose one type of plant (here are a few recommendations: thyme (Thymus spp.), coleus (Coleus spp.), daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)). Have your student(s) make a hypothesis about how the plant(s) will best be propagated after educating him/her about propagation using the website above. Then propagate the plant by seed, division, and cuttings. Keep track of the plant’s growth. This should be done using a journal. The student(s) can document the growth by measuring with a ruler. After a few weeks have your student(s) note which propagated plant is growing the best and make conclusions as to why that type of propagation may have been the best choice. The child can follow up by conducting some research on that plant to discover if other resources have specified a type of propagation that is best for that plant as well and any reasons explaining why.
- Exploring What Scientists Do: An NGA staff article that describes scientific exploration.
- Choice, Control & Change: Using Science to Make Food and Activity Decisions- Full length science lesson plans are presented in book format to teach about food and physical activity. While this resource book does not directly involve gardening, a school garden can easily be woven into the lessons.
- Compost Kit-(Available at Gardening with Kids.) Kit includes an aerator, compost pail, set of grade range specific standards-based lesson plans developed by NGA, instructions for composting, instructional guide to build a 3-Bin Composter, and an instructional guide to build a compost sifter.
Teaching literacy through the use of a garden can be as simple as bringing your class outside to enjoy the fresh air and natural environment during reading time. For younger students, word stones can be a great alternative to an indoor word wall for teaching sight words. Take your student(s) on a nature walk and have them collect numerous stones (about two inches long). When you return to your outdoor classroom, have the students help write their sight words/vocabulary words/letters/etc. on the stones with a permanent marker. These stones can be kept in the garden and used to complement literacy lessons.
- Literature in the Garden-For grades 3-5, this Junior Master Gardener resource, available through NGA, has hands-on activities that complement subjects found within existing works of literature.
- Books in Bloom- KidsGardening.org’s newest monthly column (to be released early January 2012) titled, Books in Bloom, highlights a different book with each issue. The grade level of the books chosen range from Kindergarten to 5th grade. Two professors (Botany and Education) from St. Mike’s College write the column with a focus on the plant and literature-based themes found within the book. Along with this dialogue, talking points and a standards-based lesson are provided for teachers to weave literature through science and writing.
- Creating a Theme Garden: An article from NGA that explains how themed gardens can be used to complement any subject and can be designed to focus on literary themes.
Gardening has deep historical roots. There are numerous opportunities for making connections through historical harvest celebrations, understanding the relationship between humans and plants, and other topics that can tie in standards-based lessons. To incorporate Social Studies students can create a map of the garden or other areas. Have them design a key and include a compass. Older students may even include a scale and draw the map components based on the relative guide.
- Bringing Social Studies to Life in School Gardens: History and Social Studies connections through gardening detailed in an article generated by NGA staff.
- A Brief History of Food: This article can be used to help students understand the historical background to the food they eat.
- Writing a Plant Biography: Students will develop their writing skills as well as their understanding of biographies as they relate to historical figures.
The resources available through NGA do not stop here. Our staff of experts in gardening and education are constantly developing new content and identifying resources to help educators in the field. Our online catalog offers materials available for purchase while our websiteKidsgardening.org allows educators access to thousands of free resources. Don’t forget to take a look at our grant programs. We award grants to programs and organizations who garden with at least 15 children in an educational setting. We’re here to help you make learning relevant and bring a garden to every school.