Research on school gardens

1. School Gardens Measure Up
By: Eve Pranis  “Intrigued by the concept of using gardens as learning tools, in 1992 she launched … grade summer school project that used a whole language approach with gardening … raising a garden for butterflies — such experiences help students acquire a … teachers used a cross-disciplinary gardening curriculum for one semester.” “The science concepts and skills students gained from our garden project were impressive, but perhaps more significant was the self-esteem that flourished,” reports special education teacher Joan Gould from Athens, GA. Educators in growing classrooms have little doubt about the benefits students reap from living garden laboratories. Students’ comments, behaviors, and products; photos and portfolios; teachers’ observations; and parent reports also speak volumes about how students are growing. Nevertheless, for many funders, policymakers, and others, “hard” data often carries more weight. We have scoured the country in search of results of school gardening research studies that might help fuel your arguments and proposals. Following are some highlights from which to draw.
Underachievers Grow Literacy Skills and Self-Esteem
“I was concerned about how to support underachieving students’ emotional and cognitive growth,” reports teacher and doctoral student Barbara Sheffield from Columbia, SC. Intrigued by the concept of using gardens as learning tools, in 1992 she launched a third and fourth grade summer school project that used a whole language approach with gardening as the central theme. “Beyond offering rich language arts opportunities, the garden was a natural context for science inquiries, math problem solving, and developing social skills such as working together to puzzle out problems,” says Barbara. The Results. Results of formal pre- and post-tests of achievement (Peabody Individual Achievement Test), self-esteem (Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory), and attitudes toward school (School Attitude Measure) indicated greater gains in all three areas than control classes made. The most significant student gains were in self-esteem and achievement in reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and written expression. “Of course,” says Barbara, “there were many additional qualitative indicators of student motivation and attitudes toward school that were not part of what we formally measured.” She explains that students routinely came in early, stayed late, and had no absences. Parents also reported that their children had never been so excited about school, and that they were anxious to get back in the fall to continue tending to and showing off their garden.
Gardening Improves Environmental Attitudes
Watching a seedling unfurl, witnessing the death of a neglected plant, raising a garden for butterflies — such experiences help students acquire a direct, personal understanding of what living things require to thrive, and how they how they adapt and interact. These connections serve as a vital foundation for developing a lifelong ethic of environmental stewardship. Texas A&M graduate student Sonja Skelly designed Project Green, in which second and fourth grade teachers used a cross-disciplinary gardening curriculum for one semester. The project goal was to integrate environmental education using gardening as a vehicle. Sonja conducted pre- and post-tests with 237 children using the Children’s Environmental Response Inventory to assess environmental attitudes.
The Results. Students in gardening classrooms scored significantly better than those in control classrooms on measures of appreciation for the environment and concern about human impact. The results also revealed that second graders had a greater change in positive environmental attitudes than the fourth graders — certainly a case for starting early.
2. Green Play Settings Reduce ADHD Symptoms
The Landscape and Human Health Lab’s research has shown that performing activities in green settings can reduce children’s Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms. In an initial, Midwestern-based survey, parents of children with AD/HD were more likely to nominate activities that typically occur in green outdoor settings as being best for their child’s symptoms and activities that typically occur in indoor or non-green outdoor settings as worst for symptoms. Also, parents rated their child’s symptoms as better, on average, after activities that occur in green settings than after activities in non-green settings. In the subsequent, nation-wide survey, parents again rated leisure activities—such as reading or playing sports—as improving children’s symptoms more when performed in green outdoor settings than in non-green settings.  A more recent study tested children with AD/HD in a controlled setting after they had walked in one of three environments that differed from one another in the level of greenery:  a park, a neighborhood, and a quiet downtown area.  The findings confirmed that the attention of children with AD/HD functions better after spending time in more natural settings
AD/HD affects up to 7% of children. Those afflicted have chronic difficulty paying attention and focusing on tasks and can be impulsive, outburst-prone, and sometimes aggressive. These behaviors often result in family conflict, peer rejection, and academic failure. Current treatments, drugs and behavioral therapy, do not work in all cases and in many cases offer only limited relief. These research findings suggest adding trees and greenery where children spend a lot of time, such as near homes and schools, and encouraging kids with AD/HD to play in greenspaces may help supplement established treatments to improve children’s functioning. The information here is from the original scientific articles:
Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). “Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings.” Environment and Behavior, 33(1), 54-77. Kuo, F.E., & Faber Taylor, A. (2004). “A potential natural treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence from a national study.” American Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1580-1586. Faber Taylor, A. & Kuo, F.E. (2009). “Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park.” Journal of Attention Disorders, 12, 402-409.
3. The Impact of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program on the Social and Learning Environment in Primary Schools
  1. Karen Block, MPH1  Lisa Gibbs, PhD1  Petra K. Staiger, PhD2  Lisa Gold, PhD2  Britt Johnson, BHSc (Hons)1
  2. Susie Macfarlane, BSc (Hons)2  Caroline Long, MPsych2  Mardie Townsend, PhD2
  3. 1.       1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  4. 2.      2Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  5. Karen Block, Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program, The McCaughey Centre, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3053, Australia Email:
Abstract: This article presents results from a mixed-method evaluation of a structured cooking and gardening program in Australian primary schools, focusing on program impacts on the social and learning environment of the school. In particular, we address the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program objective of providing a pleasurable experience that has a positive impact on student engagement, social connections, and confidence within and beyond the school gates. Primary evidence for the research question came from qualitative data collected from students, parents, teachers, volunteers, school principals, and specialist staff through interviews, focus groups, and participant observations. This was supported by analyses of quantitative data on child quality of life, cooperative behaviors, teacher perceptions of the school environment, and school-level educational outcome and absenteeism data. Results showed that some of the program attributes valued most highly by study participants included increased student engagement and confidence, opportunities for experiential and integrated learning, teamwork, building social skills, and connections and links between schools and their communities. In this analysis, quantitative findings failed to support findings from the primary analysis. Limitations as well as benefits of a mixed-methods approach to evaluation of complex community interventions are discussed.
4. Educational benefits:
Gardening offers hands-on, experiential learning opportunities in a wide array of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, language arts and nutrition. The educational benefits of school gardens are clear:
  • School Gardens significantly increase science achievement scores. -Klemmer, C. D., T. M. Waliczek, and J. M. Zajicek. 2005. Growing minds: The effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students. HortTechnology15(3):448-452. -Smith, L. L., and C. E. Motsenbocker. 2005. Impact of hands-on science through school gardening in Louisiana public elementary schools. HortTechnology 15(3):439-443.
  • Contribute to communication of knowledge and emotions, while developing skills that will help them be more successful in school. – Miller, D. L. The Seeds of Learning: Young Children Develop Important Skills Through Their Gardening Activities at a Midwestern Early Education Program. Applied Environmental Education & Communication 6(1):49-66.
  • Have a positive impact on student achievement and behavior. – Blair, D. (2009). The child in the garden: an evaluative review of the benefits of school gardening. Journal of Environmental Education 40(2), 15-38.
 FRANCES E. KUO is an assistant professor and co-director of the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on attention, defensible space, and novice-friendly information.
 WILLIAM C. SULLIVAN is an associate professor and co-director of the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on the psychological and social benefits of urban nature and citizen participation in environmental decision making.
 ABSTRACT: Although vegetation has been positively linked to fear of crime and crime in a number of settings, recent findings in urban residential areas have hinted at a possible negative relationship: Residents living in “greener” surroundings report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less aggressive and violent behavior. This study used police crime reports to examine the relationship between vegetation and crime in an inner-city neighborhood. Crime rates for 98 apartment buildings with varying levels of nearby vegetation were compared. Results indicate that although residents were randomly assigned to different levels of nearby vegetation, the greener a building’s surroundings were, the fewer crimes reported. Furthermore, this pattern held for both property crimes and violent crimes.
 The relationship of vegetation to crime held after the number of apartments per building, building height, vacancy rate, and number of occupied units per building were accounted for. The highway from one merchant town to another shall be cleared so that no cover for malefactors should be allowed for a width of two hundred feet on either side; landlords who do not effect this clearance will be answerable for robberies committed in consequence of their default, and in case of murder they will be in the king’s mercy.
 —Statute of Winchester of 1285, Chapter V, King Edward I
 AUTHORS’ NOTE: A portion of these findings was presented in invited testimony to the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC). This ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR, Vol. 33 No. 3, May 2001 343-367 © 2001 Sage Publications, Inc. Aggression and violence in the inner city: Impact of environment via ment fatigue, Environment & Behavior, 33(4), Kuo,F.E. & Sullivan W.C. (2001)

Comments are closed.