Gardening brings scientific inquiry and helps with student development

Gardening projects can increase student interest, student development and knowledge about where their food comes from.

Gardening is a great learning project for youth and families. Gardening gets youth and families active while they learn about how to grow their own food, discover many scientific concepts, explore nature and enjoy the harvest of nutritional food. Gardening programs are provided through in-school, after-school, community-led, summer-led programs and other venues. The National Gardening Association website provides a model of outcomes reflective among youth, parents and community that are associated with a garden.

A garden theme provides a useful tool to many content areas and topics. According to the NGA, student involvement in gardens has led to improvement in student development in various areas. Among those are improvements in environmental attitudes, nutritional attitudes, community spirit, social skills, self-confidence and leadership.

Science discovery and inquiry-based learning practices can also be implemented when gardening with youth. They can explore bugs, weather, seasons, seed germination, soils, light exposure, compost, organic versus man-made fertilizers, life cycles and numerous other topics. Check out how to start a garden program for ideas.

Facilitate and encourage the many questions that a garden brings for youth! Some ideas include focusing on a specific theme during each visit or series of visits. As an example, use bugs as a theme. When working with youth start with, “Today at the garden, we will learn about bugs.”

Begin with an inquiry process by asking them what they already know about bugs. Identify these ideas as a group. Then, ask them what they would like to know about bugs and share these with the group. Have the youth check to see if there are similar thoughts and ideas about bugs; see if they want to form groups to explore and research different topics on bugs. Visit the garden and have youth look for bugs. Discuss what the findings are. Oregon State Extension provides YouTube examples of inquiry-based learning.

Additional gardening programs offered through extension include the Junior Master Gardener Program which focuses on youth, and the Master Gardener Program which focuses on adult volunteers. Both of these programs educate about gardening and then provide volunteer opportunities to communities. Visit the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden that provides both online and on-campus opportunities to experience and learn more about gardening. The MSUE 4-H Youth Development Plant, Soils, and Gardening Project provides many resources for flower, herb and vegetable gardening.

Check out MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development resources on developmental stages of youth to determine the needs of youth at different ages. This information will provide you with age-appropriate learning expectations. Check out MSU Extension 4-H youth development science resources on these topics.