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Classroom Gardening Program More Than a Teaching Tool

The Little Green Thumbs indoor gardening program provides endless opportunities for hand-on, inquiry-based learning. As living laboratories, students can truly explore the who, how, why, what and when of gardening. Ginelle Olson (Rivier Elementary School, Spritwood) describes the garden as a place to practice caring for living things, which is beneficial to all students.  Many wonderful things come from having a Little Green Thumbs garden:

1. It actively engages students in the gardening process.

During the 2018-2019 school year, AITC-SK was proud to reach our objective of engaging students in learning about food production, environmental stewardship and healthy eating. We involved:
*4278 students directly
*5185 students indirectly
*9463 students reached
*243 teachers
*130 gardens in 124 schools
*256,487 garden learning hours for students directly involved with LGT gardens

For students who don’t have a garden, or have limited access to fresh vegetables, a classroom garden provides wonderful learning opportunities. Sara Piluk (Coronation Park Elementary, Regina) described how many of her students began the year with a negative attitude towards vegetables but learned throughout the year that they actually liked many of them! Sara also feels that having to work hard and wait patiently to see the results is another important lesson that the garden teaches.

Through classroom gardening, students are taught responsibility as they care for plants through all stages of their life cycle. The students in Nadine Hiebert’s class (Gronlid Central School, Gronlid) loved checking on their plants every morning.

2. It increases students’ understanding and appreciation of agriculture and environmental stewardship.

Given the integral role of agriculture in our everyday lives, Little Green Thumbs provides an opportunity for students to make connections between the challenges of growing a garden and those faced by local and global food producers. Jennifer Resch’s class (St. Dominic Savio, Regina) experienced the devastating effects of drought first-hand. “When we went away for a period of time and the garden dried up, we related it to drought and the problem a lot of our local farmers face when rain does not come!”

Little Green Thumbs gardens also allow students to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world around them. Throughout the 2018/2019 school year, many LGT classrooms developed creative initiatives to raise awareness about environmental sustainability. Over half of teachers who completed the survey reported they used vermi-composting in their classrooms and estimated composting a combined total of 923 litres of food waste!

3. It encourages young people to eat healthy and nutritious food.

In a Little Green Thumbs classroom, students are often more receptive to trying foods that they normally wouldn’t, simply because their classmates try them. The sense of pride and ownership over a garden that is grown from seed and cared for encourages students to take risks and experiment with new foods.

“In the beginning only 1/35 students included any vegetables in their lunches. As the garden began to produce, most of the students were willing and even eager to taste the vegetables that we grew. We started ordering veggie bags for lunch and the students would share them. The students began asking for veggies.” -Jeri McKelvie, Westview Community School, Prince Albert

Many teachers remarked that attitudes towards healthy food became more positive throughout the school year. Students began to evaluate their own food choices, incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables in their lunches. Several teachers also noted that the classroom garden inspired students to begin growing and cooking their own food at home.

The garden provides endless possibilities for students to discover new foods, challenging some to change their perspective on vegetables. The students in Lisa Zacharia’s class (Osler school, Osler) got creative with their garden and grew greens to make smoothies. They tested a variety of recipes and hosted a smoothie evening for their families. Later in the year, students also used vegetables from the garden to make pizza sauce:

“I had a parent email to thank me for engaging and changing the attitude of her child towards eating, planting, and growing veggies. Her daughter's attitude changed a lot this year.”

4. It improves the learning environment of classrooms to enhance the learning process.

Little Green Thumbs gardens provide an innovative toolkit for the enhancement of teaching strategies that move far beyond traditional methods. Jillian Hamilton-Oley boasts how much her students love the garden, which allows them to make deeper, hands-on connections with agriculture, healthy eating and cultural/geographical influences.

Teachers repeatedly comment about the health benefits of growing a garden in the classroom, particularly through the long, cold winter months. Each of the senses is fully engaged, from the sound of excited children to the sight and taste of fresh greenery or the smell and texture of healthy soil. The warm atmosphere that the garden creates is something that Jennifer Leach (Henry Braun School, Regina) truly appreciates:

Students are more positive and engaged with the classroom. They are excited to see how things change and grow. The smiles, curiosity and conversation around the garden and the plants is amazing.

Many teachers with special needs students or those who struggle with anxiety commented how the ability to sit near the garden decreases stress. Chad Williams (Clavet Composite School, Clavet) finds that the garden provides an outlet for students, particularly if they are upset or need a distraction to get their mind off something.

5. It develops a “Little Green Thumbs community” of students and teachers to share knowledge, experience and ideas.

After a full season of growing, teachers and students are ready to celebrate their challenges and successes! The students in Erin Richard’s class (Nokomis School, Nokomis) had a very successful year, harvesting peppers, basil, swiss chard and tomatoes from the garden. At the end of June, families were invited to attend a spaghetti dinner celebration, which featured garlic toast, salad (using garden greens), linguine (students made from scratch), fresh pasta sauce (using garden tomatoes and peppers) with meatballs and dessert. In the evening when the students arrived with their special guests, they were dressed up and beamed with pride! Each student was responsible for serving the meal to their families and helping to clean up afterwards.

6. It provides teachers with educational tools that foster inquiry-based learning and engagement of students with diverse learning needs.

When asked what the best part of the program was, many teachers indicated that the hands-on focus of Little Green Thumbs was its most valuable aspect! As a classroom project, gardens are inclusive, encouraging students to try new things, take ownership and collaborate with one another. Morgan Herbison (Ruth Pawson School, Regina) believes the garden creates a framework for inquiry thinking and teamwork. Her students felt pride and responsibility in caring for their garden. Their interest in local and global agriculture even inspired the class to investigate the distance certain foods travelled to get to their plates.

Leanne Schappert (Cardinal Leger school, Saskatoon) was one of the original LGT teachers and has been with the program for over 10 years:

I can't imagine teaching without my garden. It is not only fun for my students - it is also fun for me! The garden lends itself well to a wide range of curriculum outcomes which makes it easy for me to teach integrated units of study. I get excited about planning and teaching with my garden! The garden has also encouraged me to start gardening at home.

Little Green Thumbs is a unique and highly valued program that helps to connect kids with where their food comes from. Through direct, hands-on, cross-curriculum connections, teachers continue to use the garden to create innovative learning opportunities for their students. To learn more about this program, please visit https://www.littlegreenthumbs.org.