We are at a point in time when our plugged-in and tuned-out kids are spending less time interacting with nature than any other generation before it.
By Annette McLoughlin
We are at a point in time when our plugged-in and tuned-out kids are spending less time interacting with nature than any other generation before it. And while we won’t know the long-term consequences of the tech take-over for years to come, it can’t be anyone’s guess that the results will be altogether positive. Audubon Medal Winner, child advocacy expert, and author of the National Bestseller, “Last Child in the Woods,” Richard Louv links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation to such serious and disturbing trends as the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression; calling the phenomenon “nature-deficit.”
Fortunately for our gadget-obsessed post-Millennials there’s a growth of another kind happening: school gardening. This form of experiential, project-based, and place-based learning is a progressive trend in education because of a growing body of research that associates it with a multitude of academic, emotional, and social benefits. Just ask Michelle Obama, who planted an organic garden with school children on the White House lawn in 2009.
Among the schools that are embracing this movement and incorporating gardening into their curriculums is Osborn School. Their garden has long been a part of their courtyard, but it didn’t become a thriving center until a few years ago. Principal Angela Garcia, a proponent of garden-based curriculum enrichment, describes the garden’s origins: “Initially it was just a casual thing based on whomever was interested and wanted to help at recess. And like any good garden, from a seed, it grew.” In 2011, a group including Garcia, Kim Potter (the school nurse,) the PTO, and several teachers, saw the academic value and began the process of developing a curriculum. And with the financial backing of the PTO, the project took root.
Anne Mottola, a former teacher’s aide, is the program’s Outdoor Learning Staff Developer. She has a background in social work and a passion for gardening. She completed a two-year program at the New York Botanical Garden and when she is not working with Osborn’s program, she is part of an educational consulting group that develops garden curriculums in other nearby schools, such as Hackley, and school districts including Scarsdale, Mt. Kisco, and Bedford Village.
Over the past few years, the gardens and the corresponding curriculum enrichment program have blossomed and produced a bumper crop of vegetables and learners. Currently, the program is part of the second and third grade curriculum, working within Science 21, math, and ELA. “We use the planning process to teach hands-on math and science: the measurement and calculation of beds, the volume of soil, and the height, depth, and spacing of plants to determine the area and perimeter of the beds.” From Principal Garcia, “The children use the gardens as a subject of their journals, sitting alongside the gardens as they write.”
Beyond all of the curriculum-related benefits, Mottola is also quick to point out the life-long nutritional impact of gardening. “Because they are growing vegetables, they develop a wonderful perspective and appreciation and they love veggies so much more! And they often want to grow gardens at home!”
The crops were so bountiful over the last school year that they held a successful farmers market in the spring, allowing the children to see an economic conclusion to the year’s efforts; another great learning opportunity.
With another year ahead of them, the planning has begun. And on her wish list for the future, Mottola hopes for a growth in the size of the gardens as well as the addition of a greenhouse to enable them to grow from seeds. It’s hard to imagine a downside to garden-based, hands-on learning, just a cornucopia of benefits.