Connecting the Garden to Academics

Growing Minds 2015 ParticipantsTwo weeks ago, twenty talented educators from around Wisconsin gathered in the Troy Kids' Garden to learn, share, and participate in garden-based education. The Growing Minds class was full of ideas, questions, and inspiring stories about these educators' experience teaching in and around the garden. I felt truly privileged for the chance to meet them, and excited to hear all the energy they had for using gardens as a part of their classroom teaching. During the course, each educator was asked to briefly describe one lesson they have used that connects core curriculum with experiences in the garden. Below are a few snippets of what they came up with to get your ideas sparking - or, read the full collection here!

Literacy and Math: We gathered different varieties of tomatoes and had a taste test. Then we made a list of "juicy" new words to describe the tomatoes. For a math extension, tally students' favorite varieties and make a graph! - Kirsten Johnson, Allis Elementary

English as a Second Language: We read Seed Folks, and then participated in converting a nearby vacant lot into a community garden, with seedlings started by the biology class. -Emily Sonneman, Teacher and Childcare Provider

Math, Science, and Community Involvement: Students from a nearby school conducted experiments on different variables such as the amount of light and water plants received in their own terrariums. Then they brought the plants out to our community garden. We figured out how many plants can go in each grow bed using a lesson where we calculate the number of plants per square foot. - Amber Daugs, Grow It Forward, Inc.

Social Studies: On a field trip to Old World Wisconsin, we compared garden designs and varieties of plants raised from historical Wisconsin to those today. Then we talked about how pioneers brought and adapted plant species from their home countries. -Amanda Bolan, High Marq Environmental Charter School

Art: After leading K-2 students in a gardening story, I ask them to look closely at something they see in the garden and draw it. I’ve had them sketch with pencil, outline with marker, and then color in with crayon. We then show our art work and have time to process afterwards. -Kimberly Wilson, Lapham Elementary

Science: Our garden scaling activity addressed multiple common core and NGSS standards. First we observed and sketched the largest life form in the garden, and then proceeded to smaller and smaller forms. We then used magnifying glasses to go even smaller. You could use a microscope to go smaller still, or start with just the organisms living in the soil. -Growing Minds participant

On the potential of the garden: Taking this course has shown me so many more ways, than I ever thought possible, that a garden can be interwoven with current curriculum as well as become its own curriculum for life. I look forward to using the garden as a sanctuary for learning and exploring. -Growing Minds Participant
Keep this list of Garden Lesson Ideas from Wisconsin Educators  growing! Email us your lesson ideas and we will add them as we periodically update the list. 


Connecting Garden-based Curriculum to Standards We're so proud of this WSGI brief, we had to share it again. Learn how the school garden activities you already use can be aligned with the Common Core State Standards Initiative and Next Generation Science Standards. Or, find ways the garden may be incorporated into other existing lessons. Includes lesson ideas for math, science, and language arts in the garden!
Seven Generations Ahead Curricula
These three curricula from SGA are standards-based and free to order. Although some are based on Illinois Standards, we feel confident they could easily be adapted for Wisconsin! Includes: Sow and Grow (Grades 1-8, Common Core and NGSS Aligned), Roots and Fruits (Grades 3-5, Illinois Learning Standards Aligned), and Linking Plants and Food (Grades 5-8, Illinois Learning Standards Aligned).
USDA Farm to School Curricula
The USDA has several excellent resources for connecting the school garden and Farm to School with academic standards. Check out the Great Garden Detective Adventure (grades 3-4) and Dig In! Standards Based Education from the Ground Up (grades 5-6) for plenty of free, standards-based lessons that utilize the garden as a teaching tool.
Nature Works Everywhere This program from The Nature Conservancy offers resources to design your garden online, collect and measure data, and track the environmental impact of your garden. A great resource for integrating the garden into all sorts of lessons!
Schoolyard Natural Areas Toolkit
Gardens are part of a larger schoolyard ecosystem, with so many learning opportunities to offer. Check out these resources to get you started Teaching about Trees or using Nature Apps in your outdoor classroom!
Farm to School Education and Curriculum Integration Webinar
This archived webinar features Danielle Pipher of Vermont FEED/Shelburne Farms giving an overview of the creative Farm to School curricula she has helped educators develop and use to engage students both in and outside the classroom. Many of Danielle's examples come from a graduate level professional development course called "Curriculum Connections: School Gardens, Nutrition, and the Common Core" that she has taught since 2010.
Edible Schoolyard Garden Lessons 
The Edible Schoolyard has an extensive collection of garden-based lessons in a searchable database! Search for garden lessons by academic subject, grade level, or season. You can also specify if you'd like a lesson to take place in the classroom, outdoors in the garden, in a kitchen or cafeteria, or at a supporting organization. Includes lessons for PreK through college level. 
Gardens for Young Learners Brief 
Find tips for design and materials in this WSGI brief focused on creating a safe and educational garden space for infants and toddlers.

Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin - Resources for School Gardens
The work you do to connect students with garden-based learning and healthy and local food options is a great way to get involved with the Green & Healthy Schools Wisconsin (GHSW) program. GHSW is a “choose your own adventure” opportunity; you can document whatever you are doing to make your school more green, healthy, and sustainable using their (new and improved!) online application.

GHSW will connect you with workshops, grant opportunities, the Cool Choices game, and many other resources. With four levels of recognition and nine focus areas, GHSW will support you in meeting your school’s individual goals. The highest achieving schools each year are considered for nomination to the U.S. Department of Education as possible Green Ribbon Schools. You might be growing a school garden, increasing healthy food choices, reducing energy use, or adding movement to your school. Whatever your school’s green & healthy goals, there is a place for you! For more information, go to , or contact the Green & Healthy Schools Coordinator, Cindy Koepke, at or 608-267-7622.

Events ... visit our Events page for more

Midwest Environmental Education Conference: Registration Open!
October 21-24, 2015 - Madison, WI

The MEEC is coming to Madison this fall! Registration is now open. You may register for one, two, or three full days of the conference. Students can register for just $15. 

Tracks include Sustainable Foods, Education on Climate Change, Reaching Underserved Audiences, and Celebrating EE Success Stories. WSGI will present and, as always, be available with garden resources. Don't miss out on this great conference! 



NuGenesis Nutrition and Garden Education Program
Applications due September 1 for fall 2015 program - Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties

Fourth grade classrooms in the Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties may apply by September 1st to take part in the NuKids in the Classroom Program this fall! This program includes five one-hour lessons that use hands-on activities to teach nutrition, life sciences (through gardening), and culinary arts. All lessons are connected with Wisconsin State Standards and taught by certified teachers. Participating classrooms also receive a free field trip to NuGenesis Farm!  Full scholarships are available. 

Read the full program description or download the application here.




Tasty Tidbits ... of wisdom, fun, and information

Garden Joke of the Month: 
How did the farmer fix his jeans?
Click here for answer.

Gardens and Academics Research:
Here is a great collection of scholarly articles about the impact of gardens on student academic performance!

Pizza Farm Video Disclaimer: 

We were feeling sassy this month, and wanted to serve up this satire for a summer laugh. Click picture on left!

Support the National Farm to School Act of 2015:
Thank you to everyone who advocated for the Wisconsin Farm to School Act of 2015! Now it's time for the national stage, as the House and Senate work to finalize the Child Nutrition Act of 2015, which will - hopefully! - include Farm to School legislation for this year. Here's how you can lend your voice:
  • Sign on to endorse National Farm to School legislation: You can sign on as an organization (including school districts, farmer groups, etc) or as an individual.
  • Raise awareness about this bill by sharing the infographic at left on your facebook, newsletter, etc!

Success Story: Plymouth School District

Plymouth School Gardens: Following the Garden "What If..."

This fall, Jessica Mella will stand in the produce section of the Plymouth Piggly Wiggly, ready to answer questions about tomatoes. Tomatoes, one of Plymouth Schools’ Harvest of the Month, are featured in school taste tests and lunches, and on the vines in Plymouth school gardens.
Mella – who is a parent, dietician, and employee of Community Education & Recreation in the Plymouth School District – could tell you that a tomato is a good source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, or offer preparation tips and recipe ideas. (Tomatoes on the grill, anyone?) As Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator, Mella’s position is dynamic, with programs to enhance nutrition education in the classroom, and to make sure kids see the same message at school lunch and at home. In Plymouth, a town of only 8,000, the grocery store is a great place to start.
When Mella first began her position in 2011, she talked monthly with a group of parents to learn how they wanted to see nutrition improve in the district.  Mella listened, and soon, parents saw their suggested changes show up in a school lunch program with fresher ingredients, community wellness classes, and school gardens.
Plymouth planted its first school garden in 2009 at Horizon elementary, when Mella, as a parent volunteer, asked the principal for permission to begin the initiative with several teachers.  Since Mella began her position as Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator, every school in the district – three elementary, one middle and one high school – has a garden.  “Some of the teachers and I just kept asking ‘What if…What if…’ Mella said. “I think if there’s enough people willing to talk about it, changes start happening. That’s been so positive to see both as a parent and as an employee of the district.”
The gardens are built to suit each school’s needs. One elementary, where permanent garden location is still undetermined, installed two wooden tee-pees that are easily mobile from year to year. This year, beans, peas, and sunflowers are climbing the tee-pees near the school entrance, helping to generate excitement among students as they plan their permanent garden space.
Gardens not only “teach kids where nutrition starts,” according to Mella, but are also used as academic teaching tools for a variety of other subjects. At Horizon, Mella begins each gardening season by asking teachers which kinds of plants they could use in their teaching. The Kindergarten teacher, for example, requested red runner beans, which make large, colorful seeds her class uses to practice counting in the fall.  Second grade has requested corn, beans, and squash, so they can learn about the tradition of the Three Sisters garden. Third grade teacher Jacqueline Murphy uses the garden as part of her science curriculum. Her inquiry-based lesson asks students to observe different plant features, create diagrams, and finally, harvest seeds from garden plants. They use the seeds to start next year’s garden in the spring. “It’s always amazing to watch students ‘discover’ the life cycle of a plant in such an organic way,” she said.  At Plymouth High School, botany students study plant spacing and soil requirements each year, and plan the school garden in the process.
Outside of the school day, after school groups use the gardens for taste testing and making fresh salsa at the district’s Youth Center. A summer school course called “Cooking and Growing Adventures” uses cold frames built by middle school Integrated Studies students to plant fall seeds and learn recipes for healthy garden snacks.  With so much activity happening around each garden, every school has a Garden Champion who plays the critical role of coordinating gardening efforts and volunteers.
As garden “What if’s…” in Plymouth keep becoming reality, the district has continued to embrace new projects that will allow it to do even more with garden-based education. This September, Plymouth Schools will open its “Food Science and Agriculture Center,” a $1 million project, on the high school campus. The new building will feature a large teaching greenhouse and brick classroom for agriculture lessons, and will also host community classes and educational events.
How does a small school district fund this kind of infrastructure? As the momentum behind school gardens and Farm to School in Plymouth grew over the last five years, conversations began to happen in the community. One of those conversations reached a member of the Plymouth Education Foundation. This person made an anonymous donation to start the project. From there, the foundation began a capitol campaign that raised the rest of the money in less than a year. “I think that just like any story,” Mella said, “it keeps growing and evolving, as people talk and spread the word.”
In the community, plenty of people have started talking about good food. Mella’s community classes – such as composting, making smoothies with garden ingredients, and cheese-making with herbs – have continued to grow in popularity, and she finds that even her adult students have many questions about the food they eat. Moreover, they are hungry to know more – whole foods cooking classes are at the top of the request list. Having a facility like the Food Science and Agriculture Center will help connect the Plymouth community to their schools and offer a place for people of all ages to learn together, have fun, and practice healthy living.
Between community classes, Farm to School’s fresh ingredients in the lunch line, and garden-based classroom curriculum, Plymouth Schools’ dietician really is helping students to see a consistent model for healthy eating and life-long learning.  Soon, Plymouth’s healthy eating initiatives will expand to include nearby Sheboygan, as the two districts coordinate to offer the same Harvest of the Month and cross-pollinate their efforts to share information about featured veggies. Sheboygan has also followed Plymouth’s lead in hiring a dietician to coordinate nutrition and wellness programs in schools.
If your school or community is in the “What if…” stage of a garden or Farm to School program, we hope this story encourages you to follow the ellipse with community conversations around food that keep people talking long after they leave the Piggly Wiggly.

Learn more about Plymouth Schools’ Nutrition and Wellness Programs (includes great resources!)

Read other Wisconsin school garden stories

Share your garden story #wischoolgardens

Tell the world what is going on in your school garden. Stories help build support for school gardens, and can help sustain your program via community engagement and school pride!  

Share your story.

For those new to WSGI, we couldn't leave out these amazing resources. "Got Dirt?" will walk you through starting a school garden, while "Got Veggies?" will help you implement a garden-based nutrition curriculum.  "Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening" is an online training that will help you establish and utilize a school garden.  You can watch the entire training or select specific chapters.

Find them all here.

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