School and early care and education (ECE) gardens cultivate health and wellbeing by connecting children to food and getting them outdoors. School and ECE gardens provide many benefits beyond improving diet and nutrition. Lesson plans can be designed around the garden to help students learn about nature, agriculture, nutrition, math, and other subjects.
Growing school gardens and garden-based education can involve:
- Assisting a school or ECE site with getting a garden started
- Assembling a school garden committee, recruiting volunteers, or creating a garden plan
- Providing garden-based curricula or other resources to match the needs of a classroom or ECE site
- Providing training and resources that help educators feel confident that they can create, maintain, and sustain a school garden and garden-based lessons.
The Waisman Early Childhood Program: This early care and education center has created the Discovery Garden as a 1.5-acre outdoor learning play space. Each classroom is responsible for planting and maintaining their garden area.
Thomas Jefferson School Garden: This elementary school in Wausau started a garden in an underused courtyard in 2013. Students learn about composting and solar energy as well as nutrition, and the garden is part of the school science curriculum. In addition, Garden Club students participate in a 12-week after school program to cultivate the garden.
Equity in Practice
Recognizing Inequity: Schools in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are less likely to have the resources, volunteers, and staff time necessary for school gardens. In addition, curricula and other resources may not reflect the concerns, language, or culture of diverse school communities.
Advancing Equity: Disparities can be reduced if resources (e.g. grant opportunities, trainings, staff development, supplies) supporting school gardens are directed specifically towards schools in underserved communities. Providing resources and curricula that are culturally appropriate and that involve communities in school garden development can also increase equity.
The Wisconsin School Garden Network: The Wisconsin School Garden Network is a statewide support network for garden-based education, developed through a partnership between Community GroundWorks and The UW-Madison Environmental Design Lab. Online resources include downloadable toolkits, briefs on garden topics for educators, an e-newsletter, and Teaching in Nature’s Classroom: Core Principles of Garden-Based Education, which is available for free as a pdf or print book.
Growing Healthy Children: Community GroundWorks, in association with the Oneida County Health Department and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, has published this toolkit on garden-based nutrition interventions that support healthy Wisconsin children.
Got Dirt? Garden Toolkit: Got Dirt?, developed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, walks you through all the steps to plan and build a school garden, and provides example activities for garden programming.
Got Veggies? Nutrition Education Curriculum: Got Veggies? extends the garden curricula of Got Dirt?, focusing on nutrition education and cooking activities.
Youth Garden Self-Assessment: This tool from YoungStar, Wisconsin’s Child Care Quality Rating and Improvement System, helps your program consider best practices for youth garden programs. While it was designed for early care and education sites, it is also suitable for use with programs for older children.
Life Lab Garden to Cafeteria Toolkit: Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education. This toolkit contains sample policy and protocols for school gardens and garden-to-cafeteria.
Wisconsin Youth Garden Self-Assessment for Early Care and Education Centers: This self-assessment tool is specifically for early care and education center gardens. However, many of the questions could be adapted for school gardens.
Measuring the Impact of School Gardens: The National School Garden Network offers resources on school garden assessment. On their networking page there is a webinar on measuring impact and a link to a best practices document in their forum, which discusses multiple evaluation and assessment tool types.