Compost Confidential

The Power of a Classroom Garden

Kids are much more engaged in a garden setting.

Kids are engaged in a garden setting.

If every school administrator had the chance to see what I saw over the two days spent at The Manhattan School while filming our episode on The Greenhouse Classroom, there wouldn’t be a school in America without access to a garden or growing operation.

To the skeptics, the notion clearly seems overly simplistic. Yet in my observation during this time as well as every time I’ve been in a school garden learning environment, I draw the same conclusions:

  • Want to improve test scores? Add a garden.
  • Want to boost engagement from the students for learning? Add a garden.
  • Want to see kids getting excited about school again? Add a garden.
  • Want to see teachers get excited because the students are excited? Add a garden.
  • Want fresh ways to teach every core subject? Add a garden.
  • Want kids to actually understand and appreciate where food comes from? Add a garden.
  • Want to grow a new generation of environmental stewards and urban farmers? Add a garden.
  • Want an effective way to teach students about climate change? Add a garden.
  • Want our next generation to actually care enough to protect the planet? Yes, add a garden.
Even without land, schools can use a garden setting as a classroom.

Even without land, schools can use a garden setting as a classroom.

It is all these things and more that I observed yet again that impressed me so much. Students and teachers alike at the schools we visited while filming this episode seemed to light up in their living classrooms. The big takeaway for me was the enthusiasm shared by each and every student that came into that learning environment, and the fact that it lasted the duration of time they were there. That was backed up time and again in my conversations with many of the students about what they liked about these classes. Simply put, they love coming to class.

As the father of two teenage daughters, I wish we had a learning opportunity like this in their schools. Certainly, great things are going on to promote learning in other ways in schools across America, but there should be more like I witnessed at the Manhattan School. Not only do these students (and I mean all of them from K-8th grade) get excited about coming to the greenhouse classroom, but they choose to come back on their free-time, before school, after school, and on their lunch break. They love the environment so much that they hang out here and can’t seem to get enough. Just imagine what this is doing for fostering an environment of greatness and ambition and stewardship within this generation? How great can these kids be and where will it take them, and us as a country and planet?

The awesome science teacher at Manhattan School - Shakira Castronovo

The awesome science teacher at Manhattan School – Shakira Castronovo

Considering most kids today live with a gross deficiency to nature exposure, these green, living classrooms are exactly what our kids need and it’s what we all need since they are tomorrow’s leaders. Yet in spite of the relative simplicity to setting up a classroom conversion for even a few simple grow lights and hydroponic tables, it’s an overlooked opportunity for making some major connections to learning in non-traditional ways, while raising a very healthy and environmentally responsible generation. Whether you’re a parent of school-aged children, or just want to make a difference in helping raise an our next generation of potentially impressive leaders, I urge you to help create that learning environment in your community and schools. Just adding a garden would be a great place to start.

For more information:

Episode 401 – Greenhouse Classroom

Episode 324  – Edible Schoolyard


Joe Lamp'l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, Compost Confidential blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Twitter

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  1. Denise Roessler says

    Joe – I love the informative articles you post. I would love for you to touch base with my daughter sometime. Think back – Rebecca, from way back ten years ago when you helped her with her 7th grade science fair project in cincinnati on vermicomposting. She was a guest on your radio show way back in 1995 ( I think that was the year) while she was competing at the Ohio state science fair. She just recently presented her college senior thesis on hydroponics. She has a hydroponic garden growing in her dorm/apartment as well as a vermicompostin box. I have been sending her many of the articles you post.

    • says

      Wow, wow, wow! Hi Denise! I totally remember Rebecca and all of what you mentioned. I will email you in hopes of touching base with her. I’m so impressed she continues to do amazing things. Thank you for reaching back out to me. In the mean time, please send her (and you) my best regards!

  2. mastergardener marian says

    Joe–I watched your PBS show today–“Learning Out Doors”, Kids and Nature–in Atlanta Georgia, what a good project, so much satisfaction through doing (for the kids and others). Is this is a session that is available for kids, when, and how does one get more information? marian
    -I enjoy your shows. Lots to learn. Keep sharing……

    • says

      This one is a program that was established at the school years ago by some teachers and parents. They have kept it up and enhanced it each year, thanks to a dedicated staff and involved parent volunteers. There are a number of school-based curriculums available now that you could model anywhere. We did a show on the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA which is often used as the gold standard for schoolyard gardens around the world. It was episode #108 if you want to watch online. Also, the Junior Master Gardener Program is a good source for information on starting gardening related programs in schools. Lastly, we did another show on classroom / gardening in NYC in episode #401 that you might enjoy.
      Thanks for your kind words.

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