A Garden in Every School

By David E. Els

They're natural companions: A school is a garden and a garden is a school.

You may not have heard yet, but a quiet revolution is sweeping the country. Its concept ? creating gardens in schools ? embraces some profound changes in the education of our children.

The idea is not new: after all, sprouting beans and growing sunflowers are almost a rite of passage for kindergartners and first-graders, and the National Gardening Association itself has an award-winning GrowLab Science Program to help children learn through gardening. In the late 1990s, the California commissioner of education, Delaine Eastin, set the goal of creating a garden in every school. Since that time, the concept has caught fire by inspiring teachers, administrators, and school board members across the country. So, is this just another "back to basics" program that is more show than substance? Or is there some solid reasoning behind the establishment of this objective?

At the National Gardening Association, where for the past 17 years we've had the GrowLab Science Program for schools across the country, we have seen well-documented evidence of the power of plants to teach. Children learn fundamental science concepts better through the cultivation, care, and nurturing of plants than through ingesting disconnected facts in the classroom. Since we are no longer an agrarian society, our children (and in some cases, we ourselves) have lost an appreciation for and understanding of the interdependency between people and plants. Historically, understanding the inherent value of land and its productivity was a concept central to life itself; it did not require a detailed explanation of scientific concepts.

What are the benefits of creating garden-based learning in every school? First, it teaches children that an understanding of the natural world is required in order for future generations to be able to feed themselves and the rest of world. Second, a lifelong understanding of how to care for the environment begins with the care of one plant ? an awareness of what that plant requires and what it, in turn, gives back to the environment. And third, in a disconnected, electronic world of television, video games, and Internet surfing, the microcosm of the garden teaches the absolute interconnectedness of the earth, plants, and people.

The continued search for solutions to acts of random violence committed by students such as those in Littleton, Colorado, in April, raises important questions about the educational experience of our children. Do we need to focus more on the interconnectedness of life to counteract the disconnected and fragmented nature of a cybernated society? And for a child who is emotionally challenged, the first step in understanding how to relate to people may be through the care of a seedling.

A school garden, whether indoors or out, provides a microcosm of life lessons that are a critical part of children's education. At the National Gardening Association, we feel strongly that because there is a school in every garden ? there must be a garden in every school.

We wholeheartedly support Delaine Eastin's efforts in California. In fact, we are carrying the "Garden in Every School" banner to other states and school systems as well. We have also developed a School Garden Registry to document and highlight these projects and to enable schools to contact one another about their gardens. If you have a class- or school-wide garden, indoors or out, or would like to see what other schools are doing, visit www.kidsgardening.com/School/register.asp.

If you would like to learn more about the program and how to involve schools in your community, write to NGA at 1100 Dorset St., South Burlington, Vermont 05403, or call us toll-free at (888) 538-7476.

David Els is a member of the board of directors of the National Gardening Association.

Photography by former managing editor Sabin Gratz/National Gardening Association

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