At Brooksfield School, we are committed to developing the “whole child”—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. At the core of our curriculum is our organic gardening program. Research validates the vital connection of nature and outdoor play to children’s healthy physical and emotional development. Children who spend time in natural environments, such as gardens, are more physically active and experience positive psychological and physical benefits, including lower heart rates and blood pressure, as well as reduced stress and attention deficit. Even living plants in classrooms, such as our school’s indoor Garden Towers, have been shown to have similar positive effects on children’s behavior, emotions, and physical health.
This critical mind/body/nature connection that the garden program provides is vital to young children’s physical and mental health and allows for movement, sensory learning, and opportunities for social growth. Children learn from each other’s experiences and develop social skills in the garden, including peaceful sharing, taking turns, and cooperation. Gardening is a group activity that fosters a sense of teamwork and ownership in students, requiring children to work together to determine which foods to grow, how to delegate tasks, problem-solving, and how to share their harvest. In this way, children develop confidence in themselves and their classmates as they work together toward a common goal.
The organic gardening program also helps connect children to their food from seed to table. By encouraging children to be active participants in the garden’s success, they are allowed to see food develop from a seed through all the changes and processes it undergoes before arriving at the table. Children actively plant seeds, water them, maintain the garden beds, and participate in both harvesting and preparing cooked meals. Along the way, they learn about the importance of nutrition and how individual foods positively or negatively affect their bodies to gain confidence to make healthy food choices. Here again, research indicates that children who grow their own vegetables engage in cooking activities, and who have repeatedly exposed to the same vegetables and foods over some time show an increase in preference for those foods. Having helped nourish this food from seed to table, children are more likely to try these nutritious, organically grown foods than something that is simply served to them on a plate.
Another benefit to Brooksfield School’s organic gardening program is the inherent connection that is made between the school community, garden, and surrounding community. An abundant harvest provides students with the opportunity to give back to their community through donations of fresh produce to local food pantries, or by providing fresh herbs and vegetables to local nonprofit organizations working with underserved populations in nutrition education programs. An integrative approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education combined with a budding partnership with local farms and farmers, grant students opportunities to experiment with innovative and environmentally sound approaches to greater garden production, including vermicomposting, calculating sun exposure, and the use of fish-based repellents to deter deer. Our students have even turned these science experiments in the garden into presentations at local student-based environmental education conferences to share with others. In this way, our students use their gardening experience to grow both their leadership skills and commitment to their regional community in a truly holistic manner.