There's no doubt about it: gardens engage and inspire youth, allowing educators to reach students in fun, effective ways. There's something contagious about the feel of dirt under your fingernails and the excitement generated by watching a living thing sprout, grow, and bloom under your care. A special feature of a garden as an educational tool is the flexibility it offers to develop and implement activities and programs for learners of all ages and abilities.
The National Gardening Association and The Home Depot are delighted to announce the winners of the 2009 Youth Garden Grants. The 125 recipients represent exemplary school and community projects that engage youth as learners, explorers, leaders, and nurturers in outdoor garden settings. The winning programs reach children from all walks of life, supplying academic and practical life-skills instruction.
"It was important for our students to be involved in the whole process, from planning what to plant to laying gopher wire, preparing and amending the soil, weeding, composting, harvesting, watching plants go to seed, and giving produce back to the community," explains Rachel Yañez, Chair of the Life Lab Committee at Brook Knoll Elementary.
"The outdoor classroom is one of our school's outstanding features," says Principal Lucille Smith. Known as the Lamb's Yard in honor of the school mascot, "the garden provides for creative and effective Environmental Education instruction for all students, and it enriches language arts, math, science, and social studies. In addition to enhancing instruction in core subjects, the garden provides a natural place for children to wonder and discover.
"While harvesting sweet potatoes this fall, a 5th-grade student said, 'getting dirty is fun -- I can't wait to come back tomorrow,'" shares teacher Tate Little of Carrboro Elementary School in Carrborro, NC. "Another student remarked, 'I don't usually like tomatoes but these are delicious!'" What wonderful confirmation the garden program is making an impact.
"This community is riddled with problems, including a high crime rate," says Vice Principal Adrienne Hill. "One of our goals is to bring the community back into the school and to place the school out in the community."
"Our 44 kindergarten students are exuberant five-year-old risk-takers," says Center for Inquiry teacher Jennifer Barnes. "They aren't afraid of dirty, hard labor and they eagerly work to solve problems that come their way."
At Archbishop Damiano School in Westville Grove, New Jersey, educators use the garden to bring classroom lessons to life for students with significant cognitive and physical impairments. Gardening is a "multi-dimensional activity that lends itself to a variety of educational opportunities," says Dr. Gregory Zink, Assistant Principal. "The garden provides a real-life setting for math, science, and language arts instruction across all grade levels."