By Anna Mullen, Digital Media Associate
School gardens are one of the three core elements of farm to school programs, and the benefits of these green spaces are endless. Gardens create positive learning environments, increase children’s willingness to try new fruits and vegetables, and serve as a valuable tool for engaging students in a number of academic subjects.
Moreover, school gardens can be engaging learning spaces for all students. They function as interdisciplinary classrooms that welcome every type of learner, regardless of age or ability. Unlike traditional classrooms, school gardens help level the playing field for students with physical disabilities, learning and behavior challenges, and other special classroom needs by empowering everyone to contribute to the process of growing food from seed to harvest.
But accessibility in the garden doesn’t only mean wider paths and raised beds. Designing your school garden as a space of exploration and learning for all students means paying attention to the details. Whether your school garden is well established or just in the planning phase, there are easy ways to make sure these green growing spaces are learning places for every student.
We recently spotted this list of tips for creating accessible school gardens and garden activities on the National Gardening Association’s resource website, KidsGardening.org. Here are three of our favorite ideas that can be implemented at any stage of your school garden’s growth:
- Consider all five senses
Tasty garden treats and visual beauty are top factors when picking out plants for any garden. But more of our senses can be engaged! Activate students’ sense of smell by planting edible flowers and highly fragrant herbs. Want students to experience the garden through touch? Incorporate a variety of plant textures – smooth, hairy, delicate, woody. And, don’t forget sounds! Add a wind chime, water feature or feeder to attract singing birds.
- Adapt garden tools
Be intentional in making a variety of garden tools available for all body types and ability levels so that every student can contribute and learn in your school’s garden. Have tools of different lengths and sizes, of varying weights, and kneeling pads stocked in your shed. KidsGardening.org recommends having Velcro straps handy to secure tools to students’ arms, which can help distribute the weight and steady tools in their hands.
- Go vertical
For some students, reaching up may be easier than stretching out. There are lots of designs for vertical gardens that make the most of your available square footage on the ground and may be easier for some students to reach than traditional garden beds. Try vertical trellises for vining plants like cucumbers and squash, or plant a wall of leafy greens out of discarded wooden pallets.
To learn more about starting and maintaining school gardens or incorporating school gardens into the classroom with lesson plans, check out the great resources available from our partners at SlowFood USA and The Edible Schoolyard Project.
Are there ways you’ve made your school garden an accessible learning space for all? We’d love to hear about it! Share your ideas with us via our story form, or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook to let us know how your school garden is growing.