Educator's guide uses gardening as a learning tool

teaching garden
Courses that use garden-based curriculum encourage young children to eat fruits and vegetables. (Photo by Bob Rost)
Last Updated: 
September 16, 2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. —Gardening is a cycle that moves from compost to seedling, to water and weeding, to harvest and eating, and back to compost again.

A new publication from Oregon State University Extension shows how a full-circle approach to gardening on school grounds can help students understand how soil, plants and people are connected, said Gail Langellotto, OSU horticulturist and one of the authors of "An Educator's Guide to Vegetable Gardening," available free online.

"Teachers can work with students at any point in the circle to present key concepts in just about any subject," Langellotto said. For example, how vegetable scraps from the cafeteria and grass clippings from the school lawn can enrich a compost bin.

"Science classes based on gardening can teach the scientific method with hands-on experience in basic botany and environmental science," she said. "Also, studies show that nutrition and health courses that use garden-based curriculum encourage young children to eat fruits and vegetables."

The OSU Extension publication gives nuts-and-bolts advice on how to plan an educational garden based on the fundamentals of gardening. For example, it's important to find a site in a level area that has loose, well-drained soil and receives plenty of sun each day. If the site is not near a water supply, water will have to be carried from a distance.

Students can determine the general texture of soil with their hands by using feel, ball-squeeze and ribbon tests, repeated throughout the year to see if results change. Middle and high school students can perform a simple pH test in the classroom and learn how soil pH influences nutrient availability.

"One of the most valuable resources for teachers is a list of recommended plants, presented according to the season in which they can be planted and harvested," Langellotto said. Teachers also find information in the publication on gardening tools they will need, how to manage pests and when to order recommended varieties of seeds.

A vast storehouse of other gardening information also is available from OSU Extension and its publications and multimedia catalog.

Author: Judy Scott