Garden-based education is a philosophical orientation to teaching and learning that uses gardens as the milieu for student engagement through meaningful and relevant curricular and instructional integration in schools. In addition to their direct academic appeal in raising test scores and grades, particularly in science, language arts, and math, gardens on educational campuses, spanning pre-school through high school, are also utilized by educators for a variety of other outcomes. These include motivational engagement; social, moral, and emotional development; strengthening of institutional and community bonds; vocational skills development; food literacy; healthy eating habits; and holistic growth of children and youth. Moreover, garden-based education shows promise as a tangible and pragmatic solution to address problems of disaffection and disengagement among youth that has resulted in a school dropout crisis in many places. While specific to higher education, farm-based education and agriculture-based education that focus on growing food have parallel agendas. The vast array of outcomes linked with garden-based education may seem impressive. However, systematic research studies of garden-based education across sites to measure educational impact are missing, largely due to their marginalized status and the decentralized and localized nature of program implementation and professional training.
While the idea of including gardens on educational campuses to grow food or to serve as a means of outdoor and nature education is not new, since the 1990s, there has been a surge of interest in using garden-based education across countries and continents. With its accessibility on school grounds, garden-based education intersects with parallel movements such as outdoor education, place-based education, experiential education, nature-based education, environmental education, and sustainability education. Manifested in a variety of grassroots practices that include slow food, community supported agriculture, edible schoolyards, global roots, indigenous cultural gardens, learning gardens, lifelab, living classrooms, multicultural school gardens, urban harvest, and more, gardens will likely continue to be of significance in education as there are growing uncertainties globally about food security and health matters related to climate change. Despite high stakes, standardized tests, and accountability measures that pose challenges to educators and proponents of school gardens in public schools, research shows their promise as laboratories for innovation and academic learning. Garden-based education would benefit if informed by longitudinal and large-scale research studies that demonstrate instructional and curricular rigor and integration and impact on learning outcomes. Drawing on critical and posthumanist theories that question the nature of schooling, and explicitly addressing issues of race, class, and perspectives of marginalized and indigenous scholars and practitioners would bring further credence. Practice-embedded research and co-production of knowledge that accepts complexity and conjunctive thinking, while also addressing culturally responsive pedagogy across socio-economic status, would enhance the viability of this growing movement.
Gregory A. Smith
Place-based education is an approach to curriculum development and instruction that directs students’ attention to local culture, phenomena, and issues as the basis for at least some of the learning they encounter in school. It is also referred to as place- and community-based education or place-conscious learning. In addition to preparing students academically, teachers who adopt this approach present learning as intimately tied to environmental stewardship and community development, two central concerns of Education for Sustainability. They aim to cultivate in the young the desire and ability to become involved citizens committed to enhancing the welfare of both the human and more-than-human communities of which they are a part. At the heart of place-based education is the belief that children of any age are capable of making significant contributions to the lives of others, and that as they do so, their desire to learn and belief in their own capacity to be change agents increase. When place-based education is effectively implemented, both students and communities benefit, and their teachers often encounter a renewed sense of professional and civic satisfaction.
In most respects, there is nothing new about place-based education. It is an attempt to reclaim elements of the learning processes most children encountered before the invention of schools. Throughout most of humanity’s tenancy on this planet, children learned directly from their own experience in the places and communities where they lived. They explored their world with peers, imitated the activities of adults, participated in cultural and religious ceremonies, and listened to the conversations and stories of their families and neighbors. Most of this learning was informal, although at important transition points such as puberty, initiation rites provided them with more direct forms of instruction about community understandings regarding the world and adult responsibilities. In this way, children grew into competent and contributing members of their society, able to care for themselves and for others in ways that sustained the community of which they were a part. This outcome with its focus on both individual and social sustainability is also the goal of place-based education.
It is important to acknowledge that a range of educational innovations over the past decades have anticipated or included elements of place-based education: outdoor education, civic education, community education, environmental education, and education for sustainability. What differentiates place-based education from many of these is its explicit focus on both human and natural environments and its concern about equity and social justice issues as well as environmental. Not all programs that call themselves place-based incorporate these elements, nor do all include opportunities for students to participate in projects that benefit others and the natural world. This, however, is the aspirational goal of place-based education and what sets it apart from similar approaches.
Education, broadly defined, is cultural transmission. It is the process or set of processes by which each new generation of human beings acquires and builds upon the skills, knowledge, beliefs, values, and lore of the culture into which they are born. Through all but the most recent speck of human history, education was always the responsibility of those being educated. Children come into the world biologically prepared to educate themselves through observing the culture around them and incorporating what they see into their play. Research in hunter-gatherer cultures shows that children in those cultures became educated through their own self-directed exploration and play. In modern cultures, self-directed education is pursued by children in families that adopt the homeschooling approach commonly called “unschooling” and by children enrolled in democratic schools, where they are in charge of their own education. Follow-up studies of “graduates” of unschooling and democratic schooling reveal that this approach to education can be highly effective, in today’s word, if children are provided with an adequate environment for self-education—an environment in which they can interact freely with others across a broad range of ages, can experience first-hand what is most valued in the culture, and can play with, and thereby experiment with, the primary tools of the culture.