“Out-of-school time providers have the unique opportunity to create environments where healthy eating and physical activity are encouraged. It doesn’t matter if you’re a before school program, an afterschool program, a summer program, a scouting organization, or a sports team, you play a meaningful role in empowering youth to eat better and move more.” –National After School Association
Across the nation, after schoo
l programs are putting increased emphasis on physical activity and nutrition. At the same time, many programs aim to blend curriculum-centered academic enhancement with fun and excitement. And foster positive social emotional learning. And help parents continue healthy habits at home. All in the span of about two hours a day, or less.
Hello, school gardens. Here is healthy eating, cooperative learning, enjoyable exercise, curriculum connections, and parental engagement all wrapped into one. (Disclaimer: WSGI recognizes that there are many successful programs that focus on other topics – but, you know, we’re biased towards plants!) Some school gardens begin primarily as after-school projects, while others expand their reach over time. However they find their way beyond the borders of the school day, these programs provide students, and garden, with invaluable opportunities for growth.
In addition to providing a thematic focus for educators and an experiential learning environment for students, garden-based after school programs can play a major role in garden care-taking, filling in any “gaps” left during in-class activities. After school programs are often able to involve students in more extensive garden projects that can help keep the garden in top shape for school day programs that operate on even tighter time budgets.
After school students tend to make strong connections to the garden and often become what Thomas Jefferson Elementary named “garden ambassadors.” Their natural enthusiasm and pride spreads infectiously across the school community, and the knowledge they bring back to the classroom helps them take on leadership roles in garden-related topics, even among students who aren’t always first to raise their hand.
After school garden programs take many forms. Some are created specifically for the garden. Some are woven into the fabric of existing programs, either as a special unit, a daily or weekly activity, or a central hub that ties everything together. Some after school programs do not take place after school at all. Indeed, the phrase “Out of School Time” is beginning to replace “After School,” whose ever-ex
panding meaning may include time before school or during school day breaks such as recess. Schools without after school transportation may orient garden clubs around these times.
Summer programs are also occasionally woven into the fabric of “after school,” and, when available, can be an excellent opportunity to engage students at the height of the growing season - and solve the ever-present conundrum of summer-vacation maintenance.
Whether your school is creating a garden to enhance its after school program, envisioning an after school club to enrich its garden-based learning opportunities, or a little of both, we at WSGI have no doubt it will be a good match. We’ve put together an extended Resources section in this newsletter that we hope will help you at any stage of the process!
Funding for this project was provided by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health from the Wisconsin Partnership Program.
Many thanks to Grafton and Kewaskum Elementary Schools for the photos in this article!