4 Tips for Starting a School Garden with Students
If you’re an elementary school teacher and searching for a way to get your students more engaged with the outdoors and less glued to computer monitors and TV screens, you should consider starting a school garden. Since Michelle Obama started the White House garden as part of her healthy eating and living initiative, many teachers across the country have taken to a project of this sort, thanks to its simplicity and interactivity advantages. Though it may seem mind-boggling to begin with, the reality is that a school garden is actually rather simple to start. All that is needed is a small outdoor space with at least six hours of sunlight, a nearby water source, and the seeds and/or transplants to get started.
Tip #1: Start Small Grow Bigger
It is much easier to expand a small garden then to manage a large garden for those who are inexperienced. One or two raised beds are plenty for an average size class. Choose plant varieties that are easy to manage and quick to mature like radishes and lettuce. Even if you can only invest an hour a week in the garden with your students you will still be able to see spectacular results. After all, a small garden teeming with produce is lot better than a large garden too big to manage.
Tip #2: Don’t try to control everything
One of the best parts of having a school garden is having your class take the reigns with this project. Engage students in the planning process and allow them to choose what plants they want to grow. Have them make signs so they can establish “ownership” and feel proud of their accomplishments. Try giving out individual silk flowers to students who see early successes. The silk flowers will last a long time and are perfect mementos to help keep the students motivated early on.
Tip #3: Do more than just planting
Not everyone has a green thumb, so perhaps some of your less gardening-apt students can help out with other highly important features of the garden. You can have some students paint patio furniture that blends with the colors of the flowers growing in the garden. Patio furniture in bright, summery colors will look great, and the final pieces will give the students more reason to congregate in the garden even just for reading purposes.
Tip #4: Rinse and Repeat
If you’ve raised edible vegetables having a harvest party is a great way for the students to celebrate their success and eat a fresh, healthy meal in the process. Making a big salad that can be enjoyed by all is a great way to go. Then, if the project worked out well for you, think about growing other types of edible gardens like a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers and onions, or a three-sisters garden with corn, beans, and squash. Once your students experience the joy of tasting the fruits of their labor they’ll definitely want to repeat the project in the next semester or next year.