Connecting the school garden to curriculum standards

Resources to address the challenge of offering experiential education and meeting content standard requirements.

Square foot gardening.
Square foot gardening. Photo by Kaitlin Wojciak, MSU Extension.

As a food enthusiast, passionate about education, you are probably aware that using the school garden as a teaching tool provides a beneficial learning environment for your students. Most educators won’t argue this point. However, a real challenge and barrier to implementing garden education is tying educational activities to curriculum standards, such as Next Generation Science Standards or Common Core State Standards. Commitment to offering an experiential learning environment, layered on top of the wide variety of topics that can be addressed through the garden keeps teachers working to connect their lessons to the garden. Yet many teachers go at this alone, or without resources on how to formally connect their lesson plans to the standards they are expected to meet in their classrooms. With the stack of requirements that teachers must meet, it can be difficult to track down aligned curricula or organizations that can assist in content and standard alignment.

The purpose of this article is to provide a few resources that have done some of the leg work in providing national standard aligned activities that are either intended to be used in the school garden or offer education about agriculture and food systems, that complement garden education. The resources featured here are not an exhaustive list, just a sampling of some that will hopefully be useful.

Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom has a searchable database for agriculture related lesson plans, most of which can be connected to garden education, under the premise of connecting to the broader food system and agriculture. The database can be filtered by grade level, content area, agricultural literacy outcomes, common core connections, state specific content, and state origin (this is a national database). This page also offers a searchable database for companion resources that may enhance your educational efforts. In addition to these resources, Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom has a number of other resources for educators that are worth checking out, like the mobile FARM science lab that can visit your school!

The Growing Classroom, a curriculum created by the school garden centric California non-profit, LifeLab, has been connected to both the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards. Each lesson has been associated to national standards all of which can be discovered via a searchable database. LifeLab also offers a number of other resources on how to connect garden education to the national standards, which can be found at this page.

The Whole Kids Foundation and the American Heart Association partnered to author a set of 35 free lesson plans that explore school gardens, fruits, vegetables and healthy eating for ages Pre-K through 5th grade. Each individual lesson states which national standards under Common Core and Next Generation Science which it covers. Additionally, each lesson offers lesson extensions for other content areas, literature connections and resources helpful to carrying out the lesson and associated activities.

School garden partners in Wisconsin have authored a brief document providing an overview of tying school garden education to curriculum standards, along with a list of curricula and activities that are aligned to national standards.

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