Social and emotional health are important benefits of school gardens

School gardens can provide social and emotional health benefits to both students and teachers.

Photo by: Michelle Lavra
Photo by: Michelle Lavra

A teacher surprised me a few years ago by telling me that she had noticed “real improvements in the behavior of her students after they had a class in the school garden.” At the time, I remember thinking this was very positive, but I regarded it as anecdotal. Since then, I have read several studies that confirm the real and significant social and emotional health benefits for both the students and the teachers from school gardens.

While the academic benefits of school gardens for students have become more widely accepted in recent years, the social and emotional benefits are often overlooked. This oversight is significant, as social and emotional health are often prerequisites for academic achievement.

The following studies show improvements in social metrics we know to be vital to students’ feelings of well-being and therefore, ability to learn. For example, at study by Habib and Doherty in 2007 show that large number of students report “that they feel ‘calm,’ ‘safe’, and ‘relaxed’ in the school garden.”

Additionally, children who work in gardens are more likely to accept people different from themselves, according to Dyment & Bell, 2006. Moreover, a study of third, fourth and fifth graders by Robinson & Zajicek in 2005 showed that students participating in a garden program had increased self-understanding, interpersonal skills and cooperative skills when compared to non-gardening students.

All of those studies show improvements in pro-social behavior that is important to children being happy with themselves and with others.

Equally as important, students involved with school gardens “generally take pleasure in learning and show positive attitudes toward education,” (Canaris, 1995; Dirks & Orvis, 2005). This study indicates that children that participate in school gardens enjoy their learning experiences and develop healthy attitudes towards learning.

Additional studies also show that school gardens can also be a factor in teachers’ well-being. According to Skelly & Bradley (2000), teachers who worked in schools with garden programs had higher workplace morale and increased “general satisfaction with being a teacher at that school.” Collectively, these studies indicate that schools with gardens contribute to a more emotionally healthy place. And isn’t that what we all want for our children and schools?

Learn more about school gardening and community food systems from Michigan State University Extension news. 

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