Learning Gardens: Using Outdoor Education to Teach Kids About the Earth

school garden

When it comes to learning about the world, sometimes a classroom setting just doesn’t cut it. Initiatives in both public and private schools to bring children hands-on experience by visiting farms, zoos and places of worship, have become more and more popular in recent years in order to present the world to them in a more tangible way. One exceptional way in which certain towns have provided this hands-on experience is with school gardens; these initiatives in outdoor education are an amazing resource to teach kids more about the Earth.

One of the oldest outdoor education proponents is the Yountville Elementary Children’s garden in California, which has existed for 25 years. This resource offers hands-on learning in many disciplines — not just environmental studies, nutrition and health, but also science, math and even reading.

When students learn abstract concepts in the classroom, you’ll often hear them asking, “Will we actually have to us this?” At Yountville, located within a Northern California town boasting 4 Michelin-starred restaurants including Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, the question doesn’t need to be asked. Much of what is learned in the classroom is used in the garden: planning what will be planted at what time of the year, making the most of the limited space, companion planting, finding out when things will be ready to harvest, and more.

The hands-on experience that this garden grants isn’t limited to Yountville. School gardens are popping up all over the country, with specialized associations ready to help schools discover how to establish a school garden, and large corporations like Jamba Juice working to bring fruit trees to schools. More and more, people are recognizing how important non-traditional methods of education are for children and are working hard to bring them to the nation’s schools.

And yet even though these initiatives seem to be taking off, some projects, including Yountville, are suffering due to limited resources. Projects like Yountville’s Barnraiser initiative allow people to contribute to renewal of the garden, which has fallen into disrepair. Renovations like an irrigation system and new tools will help even more children discover the agricultural richness that so defines the economy of this community.

The stars of the restaurant world in this town, including Michael Chiarello and his wife, are some of the firm supporters of this initiative. With their help and the help of the community, projects like these will continue to develop and allow more kids to learn about their environment and their effect on it.

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Image: Lewis Clarke

Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.