Buncombe County Extension Master Gardeners open the annual application process for awarding School Garden Grants on February 8, 2017. In this blog, we share information about the educational value of connecting children with nature and explain why we feel these grants are so important to our schools. We hope parents and teachers will work with their school principals to encourage applying for School Garden Grants.
Children today face “nature deficit disorder”
Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, voiced concern about what he labeled “nature deficit disorder” — a chronic disconnect between children and nature that adversely affects childhood development. There was a growing anxiety that childhood obesity, poor nutrition, attention spans, and behavior problems were increasing as children spent more time indoors with television, computer games, and sedentary activities. The question was: How to get children outside and connected to nature, particularly in urban settings? Obviously, parks and gardens were among the first considerations, especially school gardens where kids could “get their hands dirty.”
School gardens emerge as outdoor, Living Classrooms
Today, the traditional concept of school gardens as places to raise plants has grown into the concept of the garden as an outdoor, Living Classroom for hands-on learning, discovery, integration of concepts across disciplines, applying facts and concepts to practical situations, problem solving, scientific experimentation and observation, writing, reading, and artistic expression. Discovery Learning, or Integrated Learning, are terms used to describe the process of learning facts and concepts, applying them to real-life situations, observing and analyzing what happens, and sharing the information gleaned with others through talking, writing, journaling, scientific reporting, or artistic creations.
Studies prove value of garden-based learning
In their article in Review of Educational Research 2013, Drs. D. R. Williams and R. S. Downs of the University of Georgia concluded that “research conducted between 1990 and 2010 has shown overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.” (http://extension.uga.edu/k12/school-gardens/research/performance.cfm)
The University of Colorado’s Benefits of Gardening for Children, Fact Sheet #3, October, 2011, (http://www.colorado.edu/cedar/sites/default/files/attached-files/Gardening_factsheet_2011.pdf) identifies numerous, research-backed benefits of school gardens, including those summarized below:
- Increased self-understanding and maturity; ability to work productively in groups; calmer and happier connections with peers and adult mentors.
- Higher scores on science achievement tests.
- More meaningful learning with integrated curricula.
- Increased parental involvement.
- Increased understanding of ecology, interconnections with nature, and responsibility to care for nature.
Buncombe schools apply their grants many ways
From 2007 through 2016, the Buncombe County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers have awarded 51 School Garden Grants totaling $35,000. These grants have impacted over 17,000 public school students in grades K-12 and 4,000 teachers and community volunteers.
Grants to Owen Middle School, Fairview Elementary, and Vance Elementary have been used school-wide. Francine Delany used their grant for afterschool programs. North Windy Ridge Intermediate and Barnardsville Elementary focused on a single grade level. A.C. Reynolds High, North Buncombe Elementary, and Erwin Middle School concentrated on single classrooms or groups. And North Buncombe High School spotlighted horticultural curriculum goals.
These school grants have helped create learning spaces with no walls. They offer unlimited opportunities for all students to apply what they learn in the Living Classroom to the real world as they develop and use skills necessary for academic achievement, personal growth and development, and life skills. Living Classrooms grow children as well as plants!
Article written by Mary Hugenschmidt, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.