I’m a first time dad. When I wasn’t working or tending to our family garden last year, I was helping out at my son’s grade school. A new grade was a big step for both of us, and I reached out to his teacher about ways I could help and participate. When she found out we had a family garden, she asked if I would be interested in helping them start a school garden. Seriously? I was thrilled!
Gardening is one of the best science lessons for children. I remember the first time I got to ride in a tractor on a farm during a science-class field trip when I was in school. Granted, we don’t use a tractor in the yard, but the farming bug is a healthy one to catch.
Gardening and farming has changed so much since I was a kid that it’s become a real lesson in how to grow things organically and be sustainable. While I could provide seeds and plants for the class, I wanted it to be more than that. I started researching grants that the school could get that would make it something they could do each year. Companies like Safer Brand and Annie’s make it possible for all schools to have gardens.
Studies show students who have helped in gardens do better on their science achievement scores. I believe it. Getting your hands dirty is the best way to really understand and appreciate life. Watching a seed grow into a carrot and all that is involved in getting it from the dirt to the dinner table. Seeing how the weather affects growth, from no rain to more than then we need.
I know calling attention to these observations and sharing them with my son has made him more aware of what is involved in creating the sustenance we all need to survive. Because he participates in taking care of the garden, he feels ownership and pride. He’s also more willing to eat his vegetables at the supper table.
When I started looking for grants that would help the school, I was amazed at all the opportunities and information provided, like this video (below) of what to do to get it started.
5 steps to start a school garden
So how did I ultimately accomplish starting a school garden? At the very core, here is what I did (and you need to do) to start a school garden at your kid’s school:
- Ask the administration and get buy-in from teachers or other parents. Get your kids excited about starting a school garden and let them get the word out to students and build hype. Talk with your child’s teacher to see if they would be interested in helping you get it started. You’ll need to develop a pretty in-depth plan on how it’s going to be financed (schools are usually already strapped for money), why it will help the school and the students.
- Find school garden grants. There are a ton out there or ask for donations from local nurseries and home improvement stores. Once you get approval from administrators, look up “school garden grants” online. You’ll find lists of grants that offer financial assistance for school gardens. Besides grants, go talk with the owners of local nurseries to ask for seed or wood donations or a gift card to buy supplies. In return, they build favorable brand loyalty with the parents of students at that school.
- Plan and plan again. Here’s where the kids get involved! Set up garden beds by grade and allow it to be a fun class project. They could include a fun theme even, like a rainbow garden or abc garden. Make sure someone is in charge of marking pathways to allow good drainage and no slippery spots and a place for gardening tools to be stored. Also, it’s smart to include a fence around the gardening area to make sure no one (including animal) destroys your garden when school it out.
- Pick a planting day. This is usually best after classes or on a Saturday where parents and students can come together to sow the seeds and learn about caring for the garden. It’s also a great way to kick the school year off and to allow parents and teachers to interact together with the students.
- Create a gardening schedule. Each class can be responsible for a certain gardening task such as weeding, watering and harvesting. Classes can also reserve time to have classes in the garden (this is particularly useful for teaching science).
I’m glad that there are these opportunities for not just my son to learn about growing things, but for all kids.
My son might not grow up to pursue a career in agriculture, but I think our family gardening practices, combined with his experiences in school, will teach him many things about living a healthy and fulfilling life.
Feature image credit: Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock