- Education and Science
Fun School Garden Projects to Do with Kids
What other project could be more relevant to every single human being and living creature on earth? Food is the ultimate multidisciplinary subject that touches on so many different aspects of life. A garden is an excellent platform for lessons in botany, natural resources, nutrition, cultural awareness, the list goes on…planning a garden can require imagination, geometry, and when managed right, teaches students leadership and responsibility.
This is why groups like Edible Schoolyard are installing food gardens in schools, and incorporating it into the curriculum. Are the kids studying astronomy? Put in a sun dial and watch shadows grow longer and shorter. Water cycle unit? Look at drainage systems. Studying China? Grow a plot of bok choy and other vegetables found in chinese recipes.
Once you’ve got a school garden up and running, there are innumerable educational projects that can be done. Below is a sampling of eight.
Some plants like to grow in the same bed in close proximity to one another, egs: carrots and tomatoes, lettuce – basil – parsley – sunflowers. It’s somewhat of a mystery why, but these plants confer benefits to each other that noticeably enhance their growth and robustness.
Students learn about ecosystem interconnectivity, and an appreciation for the “services” that one species provides to another. Companion planting also dispels the myth that monoculture is more productive.
The Three Sisters
This is a companion planting technique used by many Native American tribes across America. In this trio, the corn provides the structure for the beans to climb. Wrapped around the corn stalk, the beans thus also give the corn greater strength, making it less susceptible to snapping under high winds. As legumes, the beans provide nitrogen, an important soil nutrient, for the corn and squash. Squash covers the understory, shielding the earth from weeds and holding in moisture. Spiny squash also deters predators.
You can also explain to the kids that this team of plants is very nutritionally balanced. The beans provide the protein, the corn the carbohydrates, and the squash provides vitamins and healthful oils from its seeds.
Weeding is a great task to delegate to the kids, as it is continuously needed in any garden. But it can be fun to break down for a day this ‘good plant – bad plant’ paradigm, and play with edible weeds such as lambsquarter. Lambsquarter is actually more nutritious than spinach, containing more Vitamin A and C per ounce! The kids can try nibbles of it, though it’s Highly Important to instill in the kids a healthy sense of hesitancy for tasting (a) wild, unknown plants, and (b) urban weeds that may be contaminated with dangerous chemicals, like lead, that have leached into urban soils.
If cooking is an option, you can also make with the kids a nice pesto sauce using lambsquarter. I wasn't entirely sure our sixth graders would be game for trying slimy green stuff like pesto, but once slathered over pasta they came back with rave reviews.
Composting with worms
Vermiculture is the composting of food using worms, specifically red wriggler (other types won’t work). You can place a vermiculture bin indoors or outdoors, and have the kids add their lunch scraps each day. Students can be on “bin” duty, and take turns checking that the food scraps are evenly distributed, and that the worms have just the right amount of moisture.
Students learn about decomposition, the recycling of nutrients, and a respect for small critters! Look at what the worms do for us!….can you do that?
"Funny" Colored Vegetable Plot
Try planting with the kids yellow or green tomatoes, purple carrots, yellow green beans, etc…Who knows, this could hopefully expand their palette for trying new foods.
Have an international cuisine appreciation plot! Plant foods from all the corners of the world - extra points if you make the layout somewhat match world geography. Plant peanuts for Africa, bok choy for China, and potatoes and corn for South America.
Pollinator Attracting Plants
Teach kids about the important role of pollinators by strategically placing pollinator-attracting plants around the garden or schoolyard. Your geographical region will determine the best choices for plants, for which you can consult Pollinator Partnership. Enter your zipcode and they provide you with a complete PDF guide to practical pollinator plants for your area.
Here is a general guide however to pollinator friendly plants:
- Bees: daisies, asters, sunflowers, salvia, mint, lavender
- Hummingbirds: trumpet vine, coral honeysuckle, hollyhocks, sage
- Butterflies: zinnia, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis
Source: MotherEarth News
Herbs are good companion plants to just about anything. You can also create decorative herb “mounds” or grow pots of herbs to beautify a schoolyard or classroom windowsill.
These aromatic plants can be a fun lesson in using smell to identify the herbs. Have the kids break off into pairs; student A closes her eyes while student B holds the herb under her nose and A tries to guess that herb. You can also talk about herbs in recipes: what might you use basil with? (Pizza!) What about mint? (Mojitos!....okay, maybe not.)
Garden to Inspire
What I find most inspiring about these projects is that they have the capacity to open the eyes of the students, and make their horizons just a bit bigger as they appreciate the hidden interconnections between organisms, and see and taste things they wouldn’t normally. Most of all, they come to realize that food is living.