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Gardening: Creating classroom connections

It is well known that in this age of technology children today are growing up with a much larger distance from the natural world than the generations before them. It is also well established through research that exposure to nature has distinctive benefits for youth, both social-emotionally and physically. As educators, we can bridge some of that gap through the experiences we create for students as part of our curriculum. One way to do this is to bring nature into the classroom through the creation of a classroom garden, creating curricular connections to multiple disciplines and to the real world. 

Gardening has numerous curricular ties, from mathematics and science to art and social studies. Using your established learning goals, you can embed the creation, building and managing of a garden into your curriculum. We suggest including your students from the beginning to increase their buy-in and provide opportunities for them to develop and hone skills such as collaboration and problem solving. This article has broken down the creation of a garden down into four steps: site selection, plant selection, planting the garden, and daily care. Of course, all of this can be adapted based on your classroom situations. We just offer a starting point from which to build your curricular experience.

Site selection: Where you will be creating the garden is a key factor in the health and viability of keeping it going. Whether you are looking at an outdoor space or a corner in your classroom, doing your research here can pay off in the end and is a must before you select plants. One great way to do this is to have your students do a research study on the site(s) to gather data on amount of sunlight, temperature and soil type (if appropriate). This classroom work will include designing the research study (what will you look at), collecting the data, analyzing the data and presenting findings.

Plant selection: After you have learned about the environmental conditions of the space, you can then figure out what to plant there. Student research can look at how much light and water different plants need. It can also include looking at what type of soils/substrate would be ideal for growing different plants. Lastly it can also have the students create site plans of spacing, essentially mapping out the plants based on their needs for space as they grow. You could enrich this by taking a field trip to a garden center or invite a garden club to come and work with your students and be advisors as they design their garden plans. This also will engage the students in career exploration as they learn more about the field of horticulture.

Planting: Once you have the plan of what plants you are going to use and have defined your site plan, then you get to plant. As part of planting, make sure the students use their plans and space the plants accordingly using the proper mathematical conversions. 

Daily care: Creating a schedule of care should include watering, weeding and monitoring the health of plants. As the garden develops you can have the students measure the plants over time and graph the growth of different species or the same species in different locations in the garden. If you are growing vegetables, the students will also need to plan for the harvest as well as what they will do with their harvest. Explore ideas such as selling it at a local farmers market, using it in the school cafeteria or donating it to a local shelter or food bank. 

Creating a garden can enhance your students’ learning, generate a sense of belonging, and engage your students in real world applications of the concepts you are studying in class. You can learn more about gardens on your next field trip to Zoo Atlanta by investigating our many specialized gardens, such as the native bird garden, the carnivorous plant garden and the pollinator garden. Or you can head to your nearest garden center for a bit of inspiration. Either way, spring is coming – let’s get growing!
Michelle Kolar
Vice President of Education

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl