Educational benefits of school gardening for students

Research shows that school gardens can improve academic achievement.

Research has shown improved academic achievement when a school garden is integrated into students’ curriculum. Klemmer et al (2005) demonstrated that third, fourth and fifth grade students who participated in school garden activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests compared to the same grade level students who did not. Additionally, Williams, D.R. & Dixon, P.S. (2013) analyzed twelve different studies on school gardens performed between 1990 and 2010 that showed “overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior”. Moreover, garden-based learning addresses all eight of the National Science Education Standards

Long term low scores on math and science achievement tests of American student’s illustrate a vital need for novel and inventive teaching methods. The research of McCormick et al (1989) showed that students learn more and better when they are actively involved in the learning process – and this is exactly the kind of experiential, hands-on learning school garden activities provide. 

Studies of teaching methods have shown that “Learning is most effective when the subject matter is “demystified,” that is, when it is immediate and familiar to the learner.” When school gardens are incorporated into different subjects, the garden can be very familiar and real, providing “real life applications” of the concepts they are learning in class, such as perimeter, area, spacing, planning, design and yield. The list of these real life applications can go to “Infinity and Beyond!” 

The informal and unstructured format of garden learning is flexible enough for all different kinds of learners to benefit – and not just in math and science. Gardening can bring any curriculum category to life – from Language Arts to Lifestyle and Nutrition.

And when the garden is integrated into all subjects at all levels, it can be a very cost-effective hands-on learning tool, especially when compared commercial types of hands-on learning curriculum tools. Moreover, school garden benefits can be expanded to serving the produce grown in the cafeteria, or into entrepreneurship education when students sell their produce at a farmer’s market. The cost-effectiveness of the school garden is magnified even more when benefits beyond academic achievement are evaluated and considered, which will be the focus of future Michigan State University Extension articles.