Iowa’s growing season may not align perfectly with most school calendars, but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for school gardens here! The number of school gardens in Iowa continues to grow. Thanks to dedicated teachers, administrators and parents, thousands of children across the state have the opportunity to walk through gardens during recess, plant seeds, and even harvest vegetables at school. Organizations like Food Corps, Iowa State University Extension & Outreach, and NE Iowa Food and Fitness are getting involved too. In some communities they help provide resources and people-power to help school gardens flourish. The Iowa Farm to School program supports school gardens through the “Garden is a Way to Grow” intuitive and other efforts.
As the weather warms and plants begin to grow, so do opportunities to use the garden to enhance learning in science, social studies, language arts, and math! Here’s few ideas to make the most of the learning opportunities school gardens provide:
- Use the garden to study weather. Set up a simple weather station in the garden with a rain gauge and thermometer. Record daily measurements and compare them to plant growth and soil conditions. Have students graph the data. Extend learning by discussing how weather affects gardening and farming. Can you till the soil when the soil is wet? Do you see farmers planting after a heavy rain? Do you notice more growth in your garden and in local farm fields after certain weather conditions?
- Look for signs of erosion in the garden. Simulate a heavy rain by pouring water on exposed soil. What happens? Is there a difference when the same amount of water is poured on grass or mulch? Brainstorm ways to reduce erosion in your garden? What do farmers do to limit soil erosion?
- Interview local farmers about the history of their farm, where their crops go after leaving the farm, and how technology has changed in the last 5, 10, and 20 years. If you can’t visit a farm in person, check out these #FarmChat tips to connect with a farmer virtually.
- Research the history of vegetables in your garden. Discover where they originated and how today’s varieties differ their historic counterparts. Locate the origin of the plants in your garden on a world map. (For example: pumpkins from the United STates, corn from Mexico, potatoes from South American, radishes from Europe, etc.)
- Involve your students in planning the garden. Look up information about vegetables and flowers online or in seed catalogs. Use this information to predict germination and harvest dates. Measure the perimeter of your garden and calculate the area. Have students draw a garden plan and determine how far plants should be placed.
- Measure plants regularly and record the data. As a class, compare the rates of plants using different types of graphs and charts. Use this information to predict future growth.
- Visit the garden regularly to journal about plants, insects, and weather conditions. Create a list of adjectives to describe each plant in your garden. Use observations from students’ journals to create prompts for fiction and non-fiction writing.
- As a class, publish a garden newsletter with school garden updates, articles about favorite plants, and interviews with local garden and agriculture experts.
It only takes a little extra effort to link the garden to Iowa Core learning concepts, but the benefits in doing so are great. Not only can you use the garden to enhance classroom learning, but is also a great tool to help students understand how food is grown in Iowa and around the world.
Note: We recently teamed up with the Iowa Department of Education, ISU Extension & Outreach, and Food Core to present the “Engaging your Entire School in the Garden” webinar. View the webinar recording, slides, and handouts to learn tips and tricks for establishing a school garden and making the most of learning opportunities it can provide.