How to Grow a School Garden

Shari Altman

How To Grow a School Garden
Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle of The San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance have teamed up to create the definitive guide to school gardens, How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers. It hits stores on June 23, and I'm here to sing its praises.

Are you a mom who would like to see a garden curriculum at your child's school? Do you want to help start a school garden but don't know where to begin?

How to Grow a School Garden takes on the over-sized task of starting a school garden from scratch by breaking down the process into simple, doable steps. From garden plans and design to breaking ground and garden workdays to planning lessons and activities in the garden, this well-organized book is filled with helpful advice that will empower parents and teachers everywhere to establish gardens at their own schools.

  • History of school gardens and their benefits: The authors begin with a brief look at the history of school gardens and then quickly move into the reasons why a school garden is good for the students, the entire school, and the surrounding community. The authors cite studies that show the many ways that school gardens benefit students. Some benefits include increased academic performance, improved nutrition, a sense of place and community, and enhanced social development. In addition, gardens provide access to fresh air and exercise and serve as an extended classroom, particularly important for students who learn best by using their hands.
  • Laying the groundwork: Next, the authors spend an ample amount of time "laying the groundwork" for the school garden with sections on developing goals, finding resources and inspirations, and even pitching the garden plan to the principal. A chapter on garden site selection follows with advice on garden design and ideas for budgeting and fundraising.
  • Creating an outdoor classroom: The last half of the book tackles the nuts and bolts of turning the garden into an outdoor classroom for the students. Bucklin-Sporer and Pringle include specific examples on how to link the garden to the school's existing science curriculum.
  • What NOT to use: In addition, there is just good, solid advice to be found in these pages from a list of materials not to use when creating raised beds (railroad ties are a no-go due to the creosote content) to practical suggestions for dealing with slugs (collecting them in buckets to give to parents who have chickens). 
  • Everything you need to start a schoool garden: Scattered throughout the book you'll find examples of an annual fund letter, a garden coordinator job description, a typical garden schedule, a year-end evaluation form, and so much more. The authors have included everything you might need so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. How nice!

The beautiful, color photographs on every page bring the authors' words to life and show you students at work and play in the school garden. Harvest parties are a popular activity and simple recipes are even included.

As a former early childhood educator and one who gardened with her students, let me say that I wish this book would have existed when I was in the classroom. How to Grow a School Garden takes away the guesswork and provides tip after tip from two women who have many years of school garden experience under their belts.

One quick note. If you have never gardened, don't expect to find basic horticultural lessons in this book. The authors are open about this from the beginning, and while they don't go into botany basics for new gardeners, they do make suggestions on where you might continue your education -- Extension Master Gardener courses, for one.

Summer break is the perfect time to begin planning a school garden for the new school year, and this book is a must-read for anyone (parent or teacher) interested in bringing gardens to their own school community.

Does your child's school have a garden or edible schoolyard?


Photo via Timber Press

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