Research Summary

Sowing seeds for healthier diets: Children's perspectives on school gardening

Including children in the planning and evaluation of school gardening and other health promotion programs may improve their effectiveness

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
2017

This study aimed to fill information gaps relating to children’s experiences with and perceptions of school gardening. Previous research has focused on children’s general gardening experiences and has documented positive outcomes. This study adds to the existing research by investigating children’s ideas of the purposes of school gardening, their motivations for gardening, and their ideas and suggestions for improvements.

The two schools selected for this study had been participating in the Amsterdam school gardening program for many years and served children living in low-socioeconomic neighborhoods. The researchers used observations, formal interviews, and informal conversations to collect data for the study. The observations were conducted over a nine-month period and included all indoor and outdoor lessons with children in two target classes. Two researchers followed the children as they participated in gardening activities, held informal conversations with them, and closely observed their actions and behavior. The researchers also conducted a total of 22 semi-structured interviews -- 18 with the children, two with the teachers, and two with the garden educators. The children’s interviews focused on their experiences with and perceptions of school gardening. The adult interviews focused on their perceptions of how children reacted to program elements and what elements were liked or disliked by the children.

Findings consistent with other research included children being enthusiastic about school gardening and generally favoring outdoor hands-on gardening activities over indoor lessons. Also consistent with other studies is the finding that children experienced feelings of achievement, satisfaction and pride from taking care of their crops and harvesting them. Harvesting was identified as the most enjoyable activity; this was closely followed by planting and sowing. Children specifically disliked listening to long gardening instructions and not having enough time to complete gardening assignments. Children’s suggestions for program improvements included more independence and opportunities for experimentation. They also suggested ways in which competition might add to the fun and variety of gardening experiences.

Participating in this study gave children an opportunity to voice their views on what they believe works and doesn’t work in a school gardening program. Assessing their likes and dislikes provided useful insights into what motivates children to garden, which in this case was “having fun.”  There was evidence, too, that school gardening contributed to the children’s feelings of relatedness, as the children were observed helping and supporting each other with gardening activities. The children also suggested that their feelings of relatedness extended beyond the school gardens, as they indicated that gardening at school helped them in supporting others (e.g., parents, friends, grandparents) in their gardening activities.

This research supports the idea that including children in the planning and evaluation of health promotion programs may improve their effectiveness.