How to create a schoolyard garden

How to create a schoolyard garden

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you've resolved to become more involved in your child's education this year, dig in with a schoolyard garden. A little planning and coordination early in the year will result in fun-filled learning activities — and flowers and butterflies in the summer.

A parent-organized garden at your child's school does many things. It beautifies the surroundings, extends tight education budgets and expands opportunities for hands-on learning about many subjects, such as math, botany, history, culture, insects, birds, animals, the environment, diversity, and words and their meaning. Gardening also teaches patience and teamwork. The rewards are pride, appreciation and the satisfaction of a bountiful harvest, and a beautiful schoolyard rich with wildlife.

Although this can be a complicated undertaking, parents can take measures to ensure success. "One person cannot do it all, so for starters, form a committee of 10 to 12 people that includes parents, teachers and other school personnel, nearby neighbors, businesses, Master Gardeners and 4-H volunteers," says Ginny Roberts, director of educational initiatives and assistant urban garden specialist at a joint program with the Purdue University Marion County Cooperative Extension office and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc.

In the last 10 years, Roberts has helped organize nearly 200 kids' gardens at schools and elsewhere. Here are her suggestions:

Make a big plan but start small. Add gardens slowly, making sure each garden is established and well cared for before creating a new one.

The school has to be on board, including the teacher, principal and maintenance crew. "If maintenance buys into it, you're golden," Roberts says. That's because maintenance is there all the time, even in summer, and can help tend the garden when kids and teachers are away.

Establish a theme, such as a butterfly, wildlife, vegetable or native-plant garden to help direct educational materials and class lessons tied to garden activities.

Don't reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of local Junior Master Gardener and 4-H programs as well as national organizations' websites, many of which have lesson plans and resources for children, teachers and parents.

Ask for more. Many corporations, seed companies, garden clubs and other nonprofit organizations offer seeds, bulbs, plants and other materials free or at reduced costs to support school-based gardens. Some organizations also offer grants.

Many of these classroom resources are also perfect for parents who home-school their children and those who want to develop a family garden.


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