What makes a good school garden activity?
There are lots of existing garden activities and curriculum, but there are certain qualities to look for to make sure they are appropriate for your students.
There is an overwhelming amount of existing garden activities, lesson plans and curriculum readily available, especially online. How can you tell which ones are good for your students?
Look for educational content
This is a no-brainer for educational professionals, but may need to be emphasized with volunteers or new garden coordinators. There are a lot of fun garden activities that can certainly keep your students busy – but they are not always appropriate for an educational setting. For example, making herb sachets as Mother’s Day gifts may be a good garden activity, and may even have some value for showing the commercial value of garden products. But does it specifically show or demonstrate a subject that is being covered in the classroom?
If you truly want to utilize the school garden to its full potential for your students, you need to integrate it into your curriculum. The best garden activities directly connect to and hopefully illustrate the academic subjects your students are currently learning. Ideally, garden activities should assist your students in visualizing or actually seeing the concept in a real-life application. The square foot gardening method (detailed in the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew) is a good example of the concept of area (as in a square foot). Students can plant 16 tiny radish plants or one big kale plant into the same square foot.
It is also important to make sure that garden activities are suitable for your age group. A garden activity that keeps the attention of third graders may make seventh-grade students roll their eyes in frustration and ultimately cause behavior problems. It is more difficult to find middle and high school garden activities, but there are some very good curricula out there and it is worth the time to find them.
Garden activities need to be manageable and available to all schools. Complex lesson plans with expensive supplies may be age appropriate and have good educational content. However, those supplies may not be feasible for underfunded schools. Complex experiments are not always the best at illustrating a concept. There are many existing garden activities that are simple, educationally and age appropriate and are low cost.
In the garden?
Effective garden activities need to be carried out actually in the garden. That may sound overstated, but there are many lesson plans titled “for the garden” but actually involve cooking or planning activities that take place in the classroom or a kitchen.
Connected to standards
Many curricula are connected to specific educational standards, such as the Next Generation Science Standards or the Common Core, and list them as part of the lesson plan. This practice is extremely helpful to busy teachers who are required to demonstrate that these standards are thoroughly covered.
Some of my favorite sources of garden activities are:
Please send us some of your favorite sources of garden activities and curricula so we can share it with others. For further information or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Michigan State University Extension.