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Growing Minds: What School Gardens Do for Our Kids

First graders at Elmer Elementary learn how to plant a garden

Last Friday, with the help of some enthusiastic first-graders, we planted a wildflower buffer at Elmer Elementary School. This isn’t the first time we’ve planted at a school, and it won’t be the last. Bringing gardens to schools not only helps us achieve conservation goals — it also provides an invaluable learning resource for students.

The planting at the school was full day event. Christine Nolan, the Executive Director of the SJLWT, first gave a presentation on bird and butterfly friendly plants. Then the staff, teachers, and first graders headed outside to plant. “The kids had a blast,” Nolan says, “They liked learning about the butterflies and loved that they got to spend the day outside.” The planting itself will provide habitats for struggling bird and butterfly populations while also helping to reduce water pollution. At the end of the day, the group had planted over 500 flowers, grasses, and shrubs!

Plantings at schools like the one at Elmer Elementary serve as both an educational and conservation tool. “When we bring gardens to schools, we can work to protect our natural environment while also providing children with a space for hands-on learning,” our Executive Director Christine Nolan says, “What kids learn about in their classrooms — photosynthesis, butterflies, the water cycle, and more — comes to life when they see it in the garden.”

The students loved that they got to spend the day outside planting their garden

This isn’t just conjecture. Research has shown that providing natural spaces at schools has tangible benefits for students in many areas, from academics to emotional wellbeing. For instance, one study found that students in classrooms that incorporated a school garden into their science curriculum scored higher on science achievement tests (Klemmer, Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2005). And research has also found that school gardens can increase students’ self-understanding, interpersonal skills, and cooperative skills (Robinson & Zajicek, 2005).

Having natural spaces at schools can make students more curious and even connect them to nature. One study found that “the school garden supports student inquiry, connection to the natural world, and engages students in the process of formulating meaningful questions” (Habib & Doherty, 2007).

At South Jersey Land & Water Trust, we understand the incredible value of school gardens. We hope to continue to work with other local schools to help them install rain gardens and wildflower plantings. As Christine says, “We believe that it’s important to provide these natural spaces for children so they can both understand and enjoy the natural world.”

It’s the donations of our nature-loving members and donors that allow us to bring natural spaces to children. Consider donating today. Click here for more information. With your help we can bring more wildflower plantings to more schools!

Are you a teacher or school administrator? We want to work with you! If you are interested in bringing a wildflower planting to your school, please contact Christine Nolan at or 856-881-2269.


Habib, D., & Doherty, K. 2007. Beyond the garden: Impacts of a school garden program on 3rd and 4th graders. Seeds of Solidarity: 2-14.

Klemmer, C. D., Waliczek, T. M., & Kajicek, J. M. 2005. Growing minds: The effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students. HortTechnology 15(3): 448-452.

Robinson, C. W., & Zajicek, J. M. 2005. Growing minds: The effect of a one-year school garden program on six constructs of life skills of elementary school children. HortTechnology 15(3): 453-457

See more benefits of school gardens here

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