Various establishments and industries had to close their doors earlier this year to stop the spread of COVID-19. Several months later, the virus continues to abound, but the world has started to reopen itself slowly and carefully. But another pandemic has taken the world by storm: mental health. Many people around the world have been experiencing increased depression and anxiety during this time.

Students in particular have been feeling hopeless and overwhelmed for different reasons. The most obvious factor is the isolation that they face and the loss of physical contact with others and with their school environment. Others have an added layer of anxiety and grief over loved ones who have contracted and even died from the virus. Those from lower-income families grapple with exclusion from their inability to access the proper resources for attending online classes. All of this, combined with the pressure of performing well academically, and it’s no wonder why students are struggling at the moment.

Gardening: a recreational activity and teaching tool

Like other times of crisis, we do our best to get by with the help of coping mechanisms. Culinary activities, for example, have been popular pastimes these last few months. Another activity people have been turning to is gardening.

Long before the coronavirus, gardening has been regarded as a calming recreational activity and, in some institutions, is even incorporated into the curriculums as a teaching tool. A study surveyed educators who integrated horticulture into the curriculum found most respondents to regard the activity as a successful teaching tool.

So how exactly does teaching kids to work with flower beds, top soil, and mung bean seeds help them?

sprinkler on the lawn

Why adding gardening to the curriculum might be a good idea

Engaging in horticulture in their formative years helps children to form an appreciation for the environment and green spaces. Keeping them in touch with nature helps them develop empathy and care for other living creatures. They also learn about how food is grown and how to do the same in their own homes. As a result, they adjust their nutritional habits and eating patterns. They develop a desire to eat more fruits and vegetables, which is important for the health of the mind and body.

Gardening is also a form of physical activity, another key aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Exercise lowers levels of depression and anxiety and improves the overall mood. During these distressing times, experts encourage parents and teachers to allow children enough time for exercise and sleep. Good health fosters better behavior and attitude in children. A healthy child will be much more likely to attend classes, pay attention, and participate in class activities.

As a teaching tool, gardening provides children with novel learning experiences. It helps them grasp concepts and phenomena that they may find difficult to understand or visualize in a classroom setting. They develop decision-making and problem-solving skills and earn to take risks. Kids who garden show higher marks on their report cards.

It also leaves plenty of room to be made into a social activity. Yes, everyone is confined to their homes at the moment, but households can come together and tend to their gardens. Gardening aids in children’s social and emotional development.

Things to consider

We’ve established that gardening is an excellent teaching tool and benefits overall well-being. Now, let’s take a look at some important factors when considering adding it to school curricula.

In DeMarco’s 1999 study that surveyed educators who incorporated gardening into their lesson plans, the respondents listed two important factors.

The first factor is the availability of resources. To reap as much of the health and learning benefits of gardening, students and teachers must have access to the proper space and materials. As we’ve mentioned, children from lower-income families are being excluded from online classes because of their lack of resources to attend them. The arrangement for every student’s access to space and materials puts us in a tricky spot. With all of the benefits of class gardening we’ve listed, would it be worthwhile to invest in it?

The second factor is the educator’s knowledge of gardening and its value in the curriculum. For teachers to be willing to dedicate time and energy to school gardening, they have to believe that it is a valuable teaching tool. As DeMarco later states, for this to happen, teachers must be given the opportunity to see the value of gardening as a teaching tool.

The involvement of children in gardening is vital to the future of the horticulture industry. Introducing them to gardening at their young ages nurtures a generation that could potentially be teeming with the industry’s future practitioners. DeMarco concludes that the integration of gardening into school curricula necessitates action not just from schools but from the horticultural industry, too. She even encourages horticulturalists to assist and educate teachers by providing them with the necessary learning materials online.

Given how today’s students are depressed and overwhelmed by their online classes, perhaps a change to the online educational status quo is needed. Adding gardening to lesson plans has the benefits to potentially be a valuable addition to school curricula. The obstacles we face in incorporating it include making it accessible to the student population as well as the time and resources to convince educators of its value as a teaching tool. Cooperation from educational institutions, the government, and the horticulture industry is crucial in making this a success.

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