A number of studies have found that interaction with gardens has a positive effect on children’s lives. A pioneering study from 1988, found that gardening helps children focus on schoolwork, enhancing academic performance and a 2005 study found that kids have an increased interest in eating fruit and vegetables after gardening. School gardens can benefit educators as well. Outdoor classrooms can make it easier for teachers to explain concepts like decomposition, photosynthesis and the water cycle. Also, school gardens can bring school communities together, there is nothing like having a common goal to breed feelings of affinity. Convinced, yet? I hope so, because the following is a description of how to start a school garden in your town!
Do Your Research
The first step in starting a school garden is becoming an expert on school gardens. Look up the terms “school garden” and “outdoor classroom” online. Look into whether there are already some school gardens in your town or county. Reach out to the people involved in those gardens to hear about their experiences and their tips. If you’re having a hard time finding information about a school garden in your region, drop by one afternoon. Depending on the season you’re likely to find someone working in it who is able to inform you or at least point you in the right direction. Also, consider whether there is arable land near your school. You really don’t need much to start a garden especially if you’re willing to get creative, but it’s important to ensure that there is space for a garden somewhere before you get too deep into the process.
Start Building Your Team
Before you even truly get going it is useful to reach out to some fellow parents or teachers to see if you can get a few people on your side. They can be a sounding board for you and can help you gauge interest. Also, when you meet with your school’s administration, having a few parents and teachers on your side will likely make the administration take you more seriously.
Make Your Pitch
Develop a pitch for your proposed school garden and set a meeting with the principal. Have a list of reasons why planting a school garden will help both the students and the teachers. Think about using the word “Outdoor Classroom” as it reinforces that what you are proposing is an educational tool first and foremost, which is the truth! Make sure your plan is well formed and comprehensive, you want the administration to understand that you are on top of this project and it will not become an additional burden for the school down the road.
Develop Your Committee
This is where you take your rag-tag team and make it an organized force. Start by advertising your school garden plan and involving anyone interested. From there you want to start recruiting. Parents with backgrounds in horticulture and landscaping are obvious first-round draft picks, but make sure you also look for accountants, activists, web developers, etc. A school garden takes many forms of expertise to function. Your next targets should be members of the school administration and teachers. It can be helpful having someone on the inside to ingratiate your group with the administration and to keep your group tethered to reality. You should even invite the principal, with the understanding that they might only make it to the occasional meeting. This is also the point where you should reach out to your school’s parents association. These parent associations often know a lot about working with the school and have access to funding streams.
Write a Mission, Come Up with a Plan
Now that you’ve developed a committee, it is important that you develop a set of guiding ideas and values: your mission. Check out this article to learn more about crafting a mission statement for your garden. Using your mission statement you can start to craft a plan. Don’t be afraid to plan a year in advance. These things take time and even ambitious goals are doable with enough time to prep for them. In this process, you should be in contact with teachers and administrators to determine what they think the garden should look like. The teachers are going to be teaching lessons in this garden so you want to make sure that you include features that could be helpful to them from an educational standpoint like a compost or water pool.
Secure Start-Up Funding
Now that you’ve made inroads with the parent association, see if they’re willing to donate some of their funds to your project. There are also a number of other ways to pursue funding. You could make contacts at your local businesses to see if they’re willing to donate supplies or services. You could have a bake sale. You could organize a walk-a-thon. Let your creativity shine!
Plant the Garden
Now you’re ready to break ground! Look out for other articles coming soon on the next steps in creating a school garden.