May marks the end of yet another school year in Montezuma County, Colorado. As we graduate fifth and sixth grade classes from the Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP), and send students home with their garden journals and recipe books, we like to reflect back on what it means to have garden class as a part of public education. In honor of another school year in the books, this month we are featuring various teachers to hear their perspectives on how garden programming has affected students over the last ten years. Here are the top four reasons educators love MSTFP.
Garden education engages different kinds of students through hands-on and outdoor experiential learning.
In a time where fun comes in the form of plastic and via screens, the big world outside is a new and exciting place that many children are not exposed to or encouraged to explore. Tyra Hughes (preschool, Mancos), explains that “when children are engaged in the outdoors, particularly the garden experience, it opens endless possibilities for discovery.” Experiential education in an outdoor setting pushes children outside their comfort zone, and allows different kinds of learners (kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and reading and writing) to engage in ways that aren’t always encouraged or available in a typical classroom setting. Fred Schroeder (3rd grade, Mancos) elaborates: “Garden class helps students see, feel, smell, hear, and taste what is real. The importance of the self-to-world connection carries benefits throughout education and life.”
2. Students learn vital life skills.
According to teachers, one of the most valuable benefits to garden class are the life skills the students gain. Linda Wade (kindergarten, Dolores) notes that garden class and outdoor learning are experiences that children may never have at home with their families, and therefore never learn skills like growing and cooking nutritious food; vital skills “used to survive.” Sandy Jones (5th grade, Dolores) adds that garden class is the first time many students handpick and cook their own food, and “taste the fruits of their labor.” As a result, Hughes concludes, “there is an excitement and ownership of the seeds [the kids] plant,” and the skills they hone.
3. Experiential education enhances state standard, in-class learning.
While it is a treat for kids to learn, explore, and play during garden class, teachers see the positive impact garden education has on state mandated and standardized testing inside normal classes. Danene Yokeum (2nd grade, Dolores) says that garden class “gives [students] real life experience, health, nutrition, and science based learning with application to their lives.” She continues, “it is important for students to have garden/agricultural based lessons for real world applications, and also for science based learning.” MSTFP has a strong standard-based curriculum focusing on the scientific, sociological, historical and mathematical aspects and implications of food production. For many students, having hands-on lessons can provide the “ah-hah” moment to help make connections to concepts taught in the classroom. Monica Ramirez (2nd grade, Dolores) notes how her students “get so excited about [garden class] and love to connect what they learn in garden to classroom learning.”
Hughes talks about her favorite garden lesson where the preschoolers were asked to sort different fall vegetables: “I loved sorting by color, by size, all the different ways to sort the produce. That is a huge cognitive skill to develop, and what [MSTFP] did was so perfect.” Kate Kearns, another preschool teacher at Mancos, shares that garden lessons “have all been FUN with a lot of opportunities for the children to learn using all of their senses...and the activities have aligned very well with the state standards we are trying to meet.”
4. GARDEN PROGRAMMING HELPS STUDENTS BECOME BETTER GLOBAL CITIZENS.
Working in outdoor settings not only encourages kids to get dirty but it allows kids to work as a part of something bigger than themselves. Hughes recognizes her “children being more cautious with living things… because [garden] provides us as educators an opportunity to remind children that we are stewards of this earth.” Yokeum notes that along with science, agriculture, and health skills, the kids develop “interpersonal skills: sharing, problem-solving, and team building.” Garden class proves that many people doing their small part together can support both a community and the earth.