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School Garden Education Resources

Dr. Shelley Mitchell created this list of school garden and plant-based education resources for teachers and instructors.


Main Ideas to Remember

  1. Start small (think Dixie cup under lightbulb or on a window sill).
  2. You do not need to be a master gardener or know anything about gardening to begin.
  3. What is the main reason you want to incorporate gardening? Is it to learn about plants, food sources or culture? Keep that reason in mind as you decide which direction to take. You'll get information overload otherwise. You can't do it all - pick one angle!
  4. Use a garden/plant theme to teach your regular curriculum. Measure plant growth instead of a line on a piece of paper, classify seeds instead of toys etc. Incorporate plant and don't add another unit!
  5. Don't start your own garden. Let the kids plan it, make it, tend it, eat it. If they don't do the work, they won't have any buy-in. It does not have to look perfect; it has to look used.
  6. No land, all concrete or no time? Start with buckets and put them along the side of the building. The youth can tend them during recess or before or after school. They will want to do this!
  • Gardening programs with registration, curriculum, certification

    Junior Master Gardener program: Set of curricula for grades 3 to 5 and 6 to 8 that integrate gardening activities into math, science, reading, language arts, social studies, art, music, physical education and more. Curricula below can be ordered through Texas A and M bookstore. Registration of groups is free. www.jmgkids.us

    • Wildlife Gardener looks at needs and habitat of likely garden visitors such as birds, reptiles, insects.
    • Literature in the Garden has activities to go along with six children's book about plants and gardening. Example: Plantzilla, Miss Rumphius, and more
    • Health and Nutrition from the Garden focuses on thrifty garden, food safety and nutrition
    • JMG Level 1 Handbook is the basic curriculum of plant anatomy, soils, water, bugs, ecology and more.
    • Operation W.A.T.E.R.: Dr. Thistle Goes Underground is for grades 6 to 8 and covers topics of soils and water.
    • Operation Thistle: Seeds of Despair is for grades 6 to 8 and looks at plant growth and development.
    • Learn, Grow, Eat and Go is a ten week unit incorporating nutrition, garden science, physical activity, food preparation and fresh vegetable tastings.

    National Junior Horticultural Association has online study manuals for horticulture ID and judging contests. They have information on plant nutrition, plant propagation, vegetables, greenhouse structure and move. Visit www.njha.org

  • Websites

    Gardening with Children: Resources to Encourage Kids to Plant

    Guide to Gardening with Children includes linkes to gardening ideas for children with special needs, creating a butterfly garden, introduction to children's vegetable gardens, etc. 

    National Gardening Association's Kids Gardening: Classroom Activities, Grant; School Greenhouse Guide; School Garden Registry: Professional Development: FAQs on Integrating Gardening into the Curriculum, Planning a Garden, Choosing Plants, Sustaining Children's Interest, Indoor Gardening.

    Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom: Activities K to 8th grade on agricultural literacy.

    Learn, Garden and Reflect Garden-Based Learning: Cornell's garden-based activities offer an assortment of activities; projects; downloadable (free) publications on apples, potatoes, peanuts, rice, beginning gardening, community gardening, three sisters gardens, youth crop marketing, growing vegetables for fair exhibits and links to gardening resources.

    Planning Your School Garden Program - Help with planning, starting and sustaining your school garden program.

    Linking Gardens to School Curriculum - Ideas for integrating gardens with classroom curriculum.

    Youth Farm Stands: Youth Engagement in Community Food Systems. Free handbook with lessons, material lists, and tips on starting a garden-to-market program with youth. It also includes lesson plans on nutrition, gardening, business planning and marketing, materials lists, tips and ideas.

    OSU Horticulture and Landscape Architecture: Links to 4-H horticulture judging contests, curriculum on spices with lessons and links to resources, application for high school summer academy Camp TURF, links to fast sheets and more!

    Creating Gardens of Goodness: A downloadable booklet with advice for designing, creating, and maintaining five types of educational gardens.

    Got Dirt? Gardening Initiative: In an effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services Nutrition and Physical Activity Program developed "Got Dirt?", a program designed to assist with the implementation of school, community and child care gardens. Easy to read manuals, all available for free download in English and Spanish. 

    Got Veggies? A garden-based nutrition education curriculum created with the goal of getting children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

    On-line Guides to books, and articles on school gardening from the early 1900s to today, with links to full text where available by Suzi Teghtmeyer, MSU Librarian.

    School Garden Project of Lane County: School Garden Project is committed to a future in which all children become knowledgeable, healthy adults who understand the basics of growing food, can apply science principles to garden ecosystems, steward the natural world, eat fruits and vegetables, and contribute to a thriving community.

    Nutrients for Life Foundation: Curriculum, lesson plans and teaching resources.

    Learn About Ag, California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom: Lessons, ideas, fact and activity sheets.

    USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Summer Healthy Meals

    Nature Lab is The Nature Conservancy's youth curriculum platform. Videos and lesson plans for middle school students covering habitat and biodiversity, how gardens impact communities, the ecological processes at work in a garden.

    FoodMASTER: Food, Math and Science Teaching Enhancement Resource. Free online curricula for grades 3-5, 6-8 and higher education that used food to teach math and science skills. 

    For a full list of websites, download the Word document here.

  • Interesting Things to Do

    Plays about gardening by Bad Wolf Press such as "The Garden Show" or "Earthworms Make America Great!"

    Build Your Recycled Plastic Bottle Greenhouse by Moray Greenspace Education Project

    Make Your Own Candy - show kids where their food comes from.

    Virtual Experiences

    Build a Flowering Plant Model reinforces the structure and function of each part.

    Root-viewer "Rhiz-0-Tron: Don't pay for a root viewer. Sprout seeds in clear plastic cups, in jewelry bags on yarn necklaces, or use an overhead transparency to make a window in a milk carton from the school lunch.

    Inexpensive Chia pets: Give each child a sponge or piece of a sponge. Sprinkle with seeds such as alfalfa. Wet and wait. Use all the sponges to build a model of a South American pyramid, with gardens at each level.

    Hydroponic Gardening: Use deli containers, 2-liter bottles, plastic tubs, old aquariums, or even cups to grow plants from seed in the classroom under lights. An easy into to hydroponics for elementary, middle and high schoolers is Classroom Hydroponic Plant Factory by Foothill Hydroponics, Inc.

    Garden on a Wall using Wolly Pockets, large felt pockets with waterproof barriers that provide a reservoir of water for plants yet let excess evaporate without damaging a wall or fence.

    Dendroncoronology: Tree Ring Dating Kit: Simple exercise of taking two different "tree cores" and determining age of tree, periods of wet/dry climates. Middle elementary gardens would be appropriate.

  • Sources of Supplies
    • Seeds: Check the bean section of your local supermarket. Buy them by the pound at a natural food store. Get them on sale at the end of the growing season. Collet them off plants around parking lots.
    • Buckets: Local burns, farms, petting zoos tend to throw away a lot of feed and supplement buckets of all sizes. Check with a caterer or restaurant for buckets that food products come in.
    • Pots: Make your own by rolling a folded over newspaper (a few inches wide and a few sheets thick) around a tin can (let the paper hang over the end of the can about an inch or two) and folding the bottom in. Masking tape will break down in the soil if you use it to tape your pot closed and just plant it straight into the ground later. Use milk cartons, Dixie cups, old shoes, old playground balls, a Ziploc bag filled with soil, etc.
    • Spaces to grow: Zip-tie old gutters or pots to chain-link fence for vertical gardens; plant in parking lot islands, place planters or tire or buckets on the edges of the playground or on concrete 'patios', line cups up along window sills, plant in a wagon that you can wheel outside and bring in again at night.
    • Hydroponic system supplies: Carolina Biological Supply; eNasco; some local garden centers have net pots, clay pellets, rockwook, pumps and more.
  • Ideas for Theme Gardens (a few plants to get you started)

     

    • Circus garden: peanuts, popcorn, ‘elephant ears’, monkey grass
    • Bird garden (to attract birds): sunflowers, blueberries, snapdragons, cosmos Pizza garden: tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, oregano, basil
    • Chinese cuisine garden: snow peas, radishes, cucumbers, Chinese cabbage, bok choy Mexican cuisine garden – beans, tomatoes, hot peppers, cumin, cilantro Fall/Halloween garden: pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, popcorn, sunflowers
    • Native American garden: corn, beans, squash
    • Tea garden: mints, lemon balm, chamomile, cinnamon basil, anise hyssop
    • Sharing garden: sunflowers, catnip, popcorn, birdhouse gourds, peanuts
    • Touching garden: lamb’s ears, succulents, ferns, grasses, geraniums, mosses
    • Scented garden: carnations, scented geraniums, alyssum, four o-clocks, herbs
    • Moon garden: moonflowers, Madonna lily, white roses, lamb’s ears
    • Crafts garden: flowers, gourds, bamboo
    • Butterfly garden: marigold, zinnia, salvia, butterfly weed, yarrow, purple coneflower, cosmos, lantana
  • Finding dollars to fund your gardening activities

     

  • Resource Books

     

    • Barrett, Katharine, Jennifer White, and Christine Manoux. 2008. Botany on Your Plate: Investigating the Plants We Eat. K-4 explorations of roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds. The National Gardening Association. ISBN 978-0-915873-49-4
    • Bremner, Elizabeth and John Pusey (3rd edition edited by Yvonne Savio). 1999. Children’s Gardens: A Field Guide for Teachers, Parents, and Volunteers. Basic gardening concepts and related activities for children to do. University of California Cooperative Extension Common Ground Garden Program.
    • Brown, Patricia A., Ginger R. Krelle, and Grodan, Inc. 2010. Classroom Hydroponic Plant Factory. Simple hydroponics lessons for elementary, middle and high school students. Experiments, instructions for constructing inexpensive hydroponic systems, and worksheets included. 264 pp. Published by Foothill Hydroponics, Inc.
    • Bruce, Hank and Tomi Jill Folk. Gardening Projects for the Classroom and Special Learning Programs.2003. Gardening lessons integrated into art, literature, social studies, science for all grades. List of safe and dangerous plants for school and home as well as other resources. 212 pp. ISBN 978-0-9705962- 1-5. Published by Petals and Pages.
    • Bucklin-Sporer, Arden and Rachel Pringle. How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers. (creating and developing the garden space, guidance for school garden programs). Timber Press. 2010. ISBN 978-1-60469-000-2. $24.95
    • Coblyn, Sara. French Fries and the Food System. Activities organized by season and related to farms and gardens, the food system (how your food gets to you), farmers’ market analyses, landscape design, planning a garden, etc. Aims to teach about the practical nature of agriculture as well as about the impact of our global food system. Geared toward teens ages 14-16. The Food Project, Inc. 2008. ISBN 09703530-0-6
    • Collins, Chris, and Lia Leendertz. 2012. Grow Your Own for Kids. Basic gardening information with lots of full-color photos. Covers everything from different places to plant plants, how to care for plants, attracting animal visitors and keeping unwanted animal visitors away, vegetables to grow and how to eat them, composting, etc. Octopus Publishing Group Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84533-606-6. $14.99
    • Dennee, JoAnne, Jack Peduzzi and Julia Hand. 1996. In the Three Sisters’ Garden: Native American Stories and Seasonal Activities for the Curious Child. Adaptable for ages 5-9. Two distinct, year-long journeys through the Three Sisters garden—one from the perspective of a family, another from the perspective of a neighborhood. Each is a unique journey through the four seasons, with activities designed to engage children in inquiry-based learning. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7872-2175-9
    • Dyer, Hadley. 2012. Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City. Short (1-2 page) entries about a wide variety of gardening-related topics---food miles, inner-city deserts, hunger, Victory gardens, vertical gardens, aquaponics, rooftop and basement gardens, microgardens, community gardens, chickens, composting and anaerobic digesters, water harvesting, etc. Plenty of photographs and interesting facts. Good place to start ideas for lesson plans, projects, posters, etc. Annick Press. ISBN 978-1-55451-425-0 $24.95
    • Earl, Betty. 2012. Fairy Gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World. Making a fairy garden inside or outside, plants traditionally associated with fairies, fairy legends. B.B. Mackey Books. ISBN 978-1-893443-50-1
    • Ellis, Brian. Learning from the Land: Teaching Ecology through Stories and Activities. (stories to be read to the class that teach science concepts, with creative writing and other activities). 1997. Teacher Ideas Press ISBN 1-56308-563-1 $23.00
    • Farrell, Holly. Plants from Pits: How to Grow a Garden From Kitchen Scraps. 2015. ISBN 978-1-78472- 103-9 $14.99
    • Favretti, Rudy and Joy. For Every House a Garden: A Guide for Reproducing Period Gardens. Garden design for reproducing gardens of all sorts between 1607-1940AD, with a list of authentic plants from each era. University Press of New England. 1990. ISBN 0-87451-514-9
    • Guy, Linda; Cathy Cromell, and Lucy Bradley. Success with School Gardens: How to Create a Learning Oasis in the Desert. (gardening basics, managing the school garden). Arizona Master Gardener Press. 1996. ISBN 0-9651987-0-7 $14.95
    • Jurenka, Nancy and Rosanne Blass. Beyond the Bean Seed: Gardening Activities for Grades K-6. A long list of age-appropriate books—each book has a lesson to go with it, consisting of a gardening activity, a language arts activity, a creative activity, a recipe, a poem, and a list of related books. 1996. Teacher Ideas Press ISBN 1-56308-346-9
    • Jurenka, Nancy and Rosanne Blass. Cultivating a Child’s Imagination through Gardening. Companion book to Beyond the Bean Seed. 1996. Teacher Ideas Press ISBN 1-56308-452-X
    • Kiefer, Joseph and Martin Kemple. Digging Deeper: Integrating Youth Gardens into Schools and Communities. How-to for setting up a garden, with seasonal activities as well as an evaluation and assessment tool kit. 1998. Common Roots Press. ISBN 1-884430-04-X $19.95
    • Krezel, Cindy. 101 Kid-Friendly Plants: Fun Plants and Family Garden Projects. Photos and descriptions of safe, fun plants along with project ideas. 2007. Ball Publishing. ISBN 978-1-883052-54-6 $19.95
    • Learning Zone Express. Lana’s Fruit and Vegetable Snack Recipes. Healthy, simple and fun snack ideas for kids (kiwi rice cake teddy bear snacks, stuffed pea pod canoes with carrot paddles, pretend fried egg, etc.). ISBN 8-46742-00250-2
    • Lovejoy, Sharon. A Grandma’s Bag of Tricks: Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars. (130 activities including pizza box solar ovens, fairy houses, peek-a-boo planters, worm hotel). 2009. ISBN 9-780761-150435
    • Workman Publishing, NY $14.95 By the same author: Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together with Children and Sunflower Houses: A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups.
    • Mellichamp, Larry, and Paula Gross. 2010. Bizarre Botanicals: How to Grow String-of-Hearts, Jack-in- the-Pulpit, Panda Ginger, and Other Weird and Wonderful Plants. Whether you choose to grow some weird plants or not, kids will love learning about these bizarre plants, including carnivorous plants, ferns, odd-shaped or stinky flowers, plants that shoot out pollen, etc. Information for successfully growing these plants, as well as interesting information and full-color photos, is included. Timber Press. ISBN-13: 978-1- 60469-076-7
    • National Gardening Association. GrowLab: Activities for Growing Minds. Activities about plant life cycles, plant reproduction, the diversity of life, and human/plant interactions, for grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. 1990. ISBN 0-915873-32-X
    • Ocone, Lynn and Eve Pranis. The National Gardening Association Guide to Kids’ Gardening: A Complete Guide for Teachers, Parents, and Youth Leaders. (the basic challenges of starting a garden, planning for success, developing and designing, garden activities and experiments, indoor and container gardening). 1990. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-52092-6     $9.95
    • Paye, Gabriell. 2000. Cultural Uses of Plants: A Guide to Learning About Ethnobotany. Background information, laboratory activities, experiments, collecting and preserving plants, testing plants for medicinal properties and household uses (middle and high school students). The New York Botanical Garden Press. ISBN 0-89327-422-4 $18.50
    • Stewart, Amy. 2009. Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. Stories and descriptions of deadly, dangerous, intoxicating, destructive, offensive, painful, and illegal plants. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. ISBN-13: 978-1-156512-683-1 $18.95
    • Tilgner, Linda. Let’s Grow! 72 Gardening Adventures with Children. (activities for planting, discovering; organized by age group (2-4, 5-7, 11+) and season). 1988. Storey Communications, Inc. ISBN 0-88266- 470-0 $10.95
    • Various. 2007. The Biography of Bananas, The Biography of Chocolate, The Biography of Coffee, The Biography of Corn, The Biography of Cotton, The Biography of Potatoes, The Biography of Rice, The Biography of Rubber, The Biography of Silk, The Biography of Spices, The Biography of Sugar, The Biography of Tea, The Biography of Tobacco, The Biography of Tomatoes, The Biography of Vanilla, The Biography of Wheat, The Biography of Wool. Upper elementary/middle school level, ~30 pages each, lots of photos and general information about the domestication, spread, production and uses of different crops. Crabtree Publishing Company. $8.95
  • Children's Storybooks About Gardens
    •  Bloom, Stephanie. A Place to Grow. 2002. A tiny seed is blown by the wind from one environment to the next, hoping to find where he belongs so he can start growing. Bloom & Grow Books. ISBN 1-931969-07- 8
    • Child, Lauren. I Will Never NOT EVER Eat a Tomato. 2000. A big sister comes up with creative ways to get her little sister to eat vegetables. Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-0-7636-2180-3 $6.99
    • Coy, John. Two Old Potatoes and Me. 2003. A young girl discovers two old, sprouting potatoes at her dad’s house. They plant them to see if they can grow more potatoes. (Recipe for mashed potatoes in back of book.) Nodin Press. ISBN 978-1-935666-46-2 $7.99
    • Darbyshire, Tom, and C.F. Payne. 2012. Who Grew My Soup? A young boy discovers who grows the ingredients for his soup. Publications International, Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4508-6645-3 $9.95
    • Fine, Edith Hope, and Angela Demos Halpin. 2010. Water, Weed, and Wait. Students at Pepper Lane Elementary get a visit from the garden lady and transform a weedy patch of playground into a garden, with the help of a grumpy neighbor who is an avid gardener. ISBN 978-1-58246-320-9 $15.99
    • Grigsby, Susan. 2010. In the Garden with Dr. Carver. Historical fiction about George Washington Carver’s career in plant science and how he helped people learn about plants and their uses. Albert Whitman & Co. ISBN 978-0-8075-3630-8 $16.99
    • Lin, Grace. 1999. The Ugly Vegetables. When a little girl helps her mother plant a garden, she notices that how they plant and what they grow are different from their neighbors’ gardens. Instead of flowers, she and her mother grow ugly vegetables. But after harvest, the little girl sees how delicious ugly vegetables can be (and so does the neighborhood). Charlesbridge Publishing. ISBN: 978-1-57091-491-1
    • Littell, Robert. 1969. Gaston’s Ghastly Green Thumb. A boy who uses his fork and thumb to eat vegetables gets reprimanded by his mother, then wakes up one day with vegetables growing out of his thumb. As they get bigger, it becomes a problem. . . . Full-color pictures, would be great for reading to students. Cowles Book Company, Inc. ISBN-13: 978-0402140511
    • Middleton, Charlotte. Nibbles: A Green Tale. 2009. The guinea pigs of Dandeville love munching dandelion leaves so much that they almost eat them into extinction. A guinea pig named Nibbles finds the very last dandelion and carefully tends it until it makes a big head of tiny seeds, then blows the seeds all over town. ISBN 978-0-7614-5791-6 $17.99

    Books for Older Youth:

    • Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Secret Garden.
    • Fleischman, Paul. 1997. Seedfolks. People of varying ages and backgrounds slowly transform a vacant and trash-filled inner city lot into a garden. 102 pp. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-447207-4 $5.99

     Interactive Book

    •  Benner, Al. 2014. Powerful Plants Volume 1: The Carrot-Napping. Daucus the lovable carrot is taken hostage by Mean Gene, who wants to genetically modify him. (Animation is viewed through a phone or tablet via downloadable app from powerfulplants.net). 43pp. Powerful Plants, LLC. ISBN: 978-0-692- 21130-4 $19.95

    Songs:

    • Just a Little Seed (I've Got Potential) suitable for preschool and early elementary
    • Vegetable Song for Kids: A song with singing vegetables that start with each letter of the alphabet. Suitable for elementary students.
  • Phone Apps
    • Leaf Snap: snap a picture of a leaf, seed, flower or fruit to identify the tree species
    • Audubon Guides: A Field Guide for Birds, Mammals, Wildflowers and Trees – has photos, range maps and animal sounds to help you identify things you spot on a hike. Identifies at local, regional and international levels.
    • My Nature Animals Tracks: tips to finding animal tracks, animal sounds, pictures of scat and tracks
    • NatureFind: features thousands of natural places throughout the country and fun events throughout the year
    • Project Noah: document wildlife and plants as a citizen scientist; discover organisms around the world while connecting with other nature enthusiasts
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