Courtesy Stephanie Schupska/University of Georgia
The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences launched a new online resource for Georgia teachers looking to take full advantage of their school’s gardens or start a garden at their school.
Hundreds of schools in Georgia now have school gardens, and October—Farm to School Month—is a great time to use the gardens to help students connect classroom lessons and the natural world.
The UGA Extension School Garden Resource Center, launched Oct. 1, 2013, offers teachers kindergarten through eighth grade lesson plans that use school gardens to teach the curriculum prescribed in the Georgia Performance Standards. All of the content at the School Garden Resource Center is free and available online.
David Knauft, a professor of horticulture at UGA, collected and adapted the school garden lesson plans in order to make it easier for teachers to use their school gardens or to start new gardens. During his research, Knauft found many teachers didn’t feel they had time to work gardening into their teaching day and didn’t have the support they needed to maintain the gardens.
"We conducted four focus groups with teachers, administrators and volunteers across Georgia, asking them about the value of the gardens and what we could do to help,” Knauft says. "They said that providing information to help establish and grow their gardens and how to work them into the existing curriculum, so that they could more easily use the gardens, would make a big difference.”
Knauft, who has taught horticulture at the UGA CAES for more than three decades, first learned the importance of linking enrichment activities with state-mandated curriculum when he helped develop Project Focus, an elementary and middle school program in which college students conduct curriculum-based science programs in local classrooms. Knauft collected and adapted the school garden lesson plans and other resources with the help of Alicia Holloway, a former agriculture teacher who is now working on the school-garden project.
"There’s a lot of pressure for teachers to improve test scores, so it can be hard to take time away from instruction to take a class outside, but if you can tie that time outside to the curriculum and use the school’s garden to teach them the standards that they need to learn, it starts to make sense,” Holloway says. "Hopefully, teachers will be able to go to this website, look at the lesson plan resources that are available and find one that works best for teaching the standards that they need to focus on, while introducing students to the natural world.”
Kaiser Permanente’s Partnership for a Healthier America funded part of the School Garden Resource Center and will help develop more standards-based lesson plans that can be used in Georgia’s school gardens.
In addition to the lesson plans, the School Garden Resource Center has a comprehensive guide on how to start and maintain a school garden and lists grants and funding sources for school and community gardens. The resource center is a one-stop-shop for resources from other state Extension agencies, the USDA and non-profit organizations that promote gardening in schools.