I once had a friend who was a physical education teacher. She was adamant about the fact that her class was not called 'gym.' "There are tests in my class, there are lessons in my class, it is so much more than just running around in a big room," was her well-earned soapbox. Working with school gardens has taught me that physical education classes also extend beyond the school gym geographically, with PE teachers utilizing outdoor spaces to introduce their students to a variety of activities that are part of a physically active, healthy lifestyle.
One of the places that many PE teachers are beginning to incorporate into their regimen of outdoor activities is the school garden. Gardening as a recreational activity has been shown to reduce stress and boost overall mental health. Furthermore, the mild exercise involved in garden activities such as pushing a wheelbarrow or bending down to pull a weed certainly contribute to strength, flexibility, and fine motor skills. More importantly, gardening is a form of exercise that, for most people, is pleasurable and has a concrete purpose. It is often for this reason that students - and the adults they soon become - are so often drawn to the garden again and again.
Physical education teachers have been creative in adding extra strengthening exercises into normal garden work days - have you ever moved moved mulch by doing five practice lifts every time you move the wheelbarrow? - and have also made strides to incorporate the most exciting part of gardening - eating - into lessons on nutrition and healthy choices.
School gardens are certainly strongest when they are integrated into all aspects of a school community. Physical education is a natural fit for garden programs, and we here at WSGI are excited to celebrate this connection!
This article from CNN is a great starting point for those wanting to know more about the connection between gardening to physical and mental health!