The Beneficial Impact of Nature and Gardens in Secondary Classrooms

Kathleen Buschle, Fall 2018

The Beneficial Impact of Nature and Gardens in Secondary Classrooms




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School gardens have been around for centuries and are beginning to make a resurgence once again. Garden Based Learning (GBL) is a philosophical teaching approach which utilizes school or community gardens as a teaching tool to foster student engagement through meaningful and relevant curricular and instructional integration (Williams). Numerous examples and studies have proven that involvement with GBL increases test scores, attendance, and more among students, and the program isn’t limited to just science class. In addition to benefiting the community as a whole, inclusion of gardens and nature in general boosts health and nutrion, academics and skills, and mental health among students.

Health and Nutrition 

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Affected areas:

Exposure to healthy food options and moderate exercise

Increased fruit and vegetable consumption

Creation of lifelong dietary habits

Practice making healthy meals

Holistic growth

Access to fresh produce for low-income families



Lonnie Sclerandi, a Spanish teacher and soccer coach at Austin Independent School District created a small garden outside of his classroom for himself and his students who live in a “food desert”, an area overrun by unhealthy and processed foods with little access to healthy options. His garden has flourished and continues to help spread healthy produce and healthy eating habits to students and community members.

Lonnie Sclerandi's Garden Promoting Health


Academics and Skills


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Affected Areas: 

Improved test and classroom scores

Improved attendence

Positive attitude towards education

Cooperation among peers

Spreading knowledge among the community

Motor-skills and self-sustainability

Increased leadership skills and confidence

Vocational skill development

Increased sense of volunteerism

Provides tangible and pragmatic solutions to student disengagement


Among a polled group of schools utilizing GBL, the following statistics reflect the usage of the gardens based on academic purpose (Bareng- Antolin).

Science (85.7%)

Math (35.7%)

English (26.2%)

Social Studies (19%)

Agriculture Studies (50%)

Art (19%)

Environmental Studies (42.9%)

Health and Nutrition (61.9%)

Home Economics (45.2%)

Physical Education (21.4%)

Computer Technology (7.1%)

Business and Microeconomics (9.5%)

Service Learning (38.1%)

   Gardens can be included in such a wide range of curriculum, and it encourages students to work cooperatively in order to solve problems, engage within their community to incite change, and enjoy their education. Students from all grade and ability levels can benefit from engagement in the gardens.


Stephen Ritz, a teacher in New York City, has successfully implemented GBL into his impoverished urban school, benefiting his at-risk students and his students struggling with learning disabilities. His students have learned how to interact and give back to their community through service, valuable workplace skills (including safe food handling skills, construction building skills, business and monetary skills) and gained a driving creativity to improve their environment for generations to come.

Ritz reveals that after implementing the gardening program, his classroom attendance has improved from forty percent to ninety-three percent and that all of his students (whom are overage and under-credit) are either in college, working a living wage job, or are on track to graduate.

Stephen Ritz's "Growing Green in the Bronx" TED Talk


Mental Health

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 Teenagers are becoming increasingly over-stressed in the enormous amount of high expectations that are placed upon them. This chronic stress can lead to physical illness, anxiety, depression,and decreased academic performance. A new field of research argues that engaging with nature or even just viewing greenery has the capacity to reduce stress and relax the body. Physiological experiements show that students in classrooms with views of nature through a window have greater stress recovery (Chen).

Exposeure to natural environments has been proven to dramatically reduce stress, anger, and fear. Nature Deprivation is known as lack of time spent in the natural world. Typically people are engaged at school or work on computers and tablets, but this lack of nature is associated with depression, lack of empathy, and lack of altruism.

Another scientific study showed promising results concerning the concentration of students with ADHD. Out of multiple environments, students showed the most improvement in focus after walking through a park or nature enclosed area (Taylor and Kuo).

More information about the health benefits of being in nature.

Gardens can function as a safe place, helping students to feel safe, happy, and relaxed. Working and learning in a school garden also helps students to develop self-understanding, interpersonal skills, and cooperative skills with their peers, redulting in healthy relationships.


How to Bring Nature and Gardening to Your Students 

Often community members or garndening stores will donate to your cause. Check with your PTA, Lowes/Home Depot/Walmart stores, local nurseries and greenhouses, and community event organizers.


Grants! Here is a compiled list of 28 organizations to apply to.

 Here is a collection of base lesson plans for a variety of grade levels and subject matters. These can easily be edited and transformed to fit your unique needs. Example lesson plans include poetry assignments, business and design, nutrition, ecosystem relationships, art, and community engagement. 


 No way to obtain a gardening space? Now is a great oportunity for students to participate in community designing and organization. Until then, just make sure your students are exposed to the views and sounds of nature for stress relief, and have conversations about the benefits of healthy eating. 


Image result for healthy food school garden


Works Cited 

Bareng- Antolin, Noehealani Cierra, "High School Gardens Program across the Nation: Current Practices, Perceived Benefits, Barriers, and Resources" (2017). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 2939.


“Benefits of School-Based Community Gardens: A compilation of research findings.” Denver Urban Gardens. 2012.

Chen, Chen. “Immpact of Nature Window View on High School Students Stress Recovery.” (2014). Graduate Theses and Disertations.


Childs, Elizabeth Ann, "Impact of school gardens on student attitudes and beliefs" (2011). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 10393.

Taylor, Andrea Faber and Frances Kuo. “Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park.” Journal of Attention Disorders, Vol. 12, No. 5, March 2009, pp. 402 - 409.

Williams, Dilafruz. "Garden-Based Education." Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education.  February 26, 2018. Oxford University Press,. Date of access 3 Dec. 2018, <