School Gardens

For educators interested in schooling for sustainability, a garden is often a great starting place.

Even a small plot or container garden can help children learn basic ecological principles first-hand. Especially in cities, a garden may be a young person's best connection to the natural world. It can be an early opportunity to integrate schooling for sustainability into the curriculum. 

School gardens enable students to:

  • Care for other living things.
  • Learn ecological principles.
  • Draw on different learning styles.
  • Experience the joy of nature.
  • Practice leadership skills.
  • Make connections between science, social studies, math, language arts, and other subjects.
  • Be physically active.
  • Use all their senses.

To make the most of their gardens, many schools:

  • Share ownership, so that the garden belongs to the whole school, not just one class.
  • Integrate the garden into the curriculum, including garden-based social studies, math, language arts, and science lessons.
  • Encourage classroom teachers to participate with their students in the garden, rather than using the time students are in the garden as a break or an opportunity to do other work.
  • Have someone (it could be a reliable volunteer) responsible for overseeing scheduling and maintenance. Freeing that person from other responsibilities ensures that they can do the job. A teacher shouldn't be expected to manage the garden on top of a full teaching load.
  • Invite the local community into the garden. Unlocked gates can reduce vandalism and theft.
  • Find ways to grow plants year-round. Schools in cold climates have found that greenhouses help keep students gardening through the year.

The Center for Ecoliteracy offers a downloadable 51-page pdf, Getting Started: A Guide for Creating School Gardens as Outdoor Classroom. It offers guidelines on raising funds, preparing sites, designing and maintaining gardens, and connecting gardens to classroom learning.

Against All Odds: School Gardens Bloom in West Contra Costa

A collaborative of teachers, administrators, community members, and students creates successful school gardens in some tough places through the power of community.


A downloadable 66-page booklet with detailed advice for designing, creating, and maintaining five types of educational gardens.


A 51-page guide for creating school gardens as outdoor classrooms.

Read More

Type Title Description
Essay So Much Magic around the Garden

An urban school that once looked like a prison yard is transformed into a dynamic "living library" for ecoliteracy education.

Essay The School in Every Garden

School gardens teach children the balance between living and merely surviving.

Essay Three Sisters: An Ancient Garden Trio

The "Three Sisters" — corn, beans, and squash — provide a meaningful context for school garden education.

Essay Beyond a Garden in Every School

School gardens should be thought of as the center of the school, and not just another program or place.

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