A Grassroots Effort to Renew the Schoolyard: The Learning Garden

Katie Kingery-Page, Manhattan, KS
Jon Hunt, Manhattan, KS

ABSTRACT: In the United States, children are often isolated from the natural world. In many cities, these children have very limited exposure to ‘wild’ places or food production landscapes. They spend their days in school buildings and their meals are frequently composed of processed foods.

A new schoolyard landscape in a mid-western city is infusing kids’ lives with nature. Educators, community advocates, and parents gathered funds, drew plans, and constructed the garden because they saw its potential to affect students. The setting is the largest elementary school in the community. Fifty-five percent of the students are from low income families. The school serves a neighborhood that is geographically isolated by a major highway; students are not able to walk to most parks, the zoo, or natural areas.

The Learning Garden is a living laboratory that supports teaching and learning. The garden is universally accessible. The garden is beautiful in its organization and material execution. The garden’s goals range from teaching pragmatic skills (gardening) to encouraging a sense of wonder and connection to the regional landscape. The garden features native plants and locally quarried stone of the region.

Volunteers constructed the garden in spring and summer 2009. The school now faces the challenges of staffing, maintaining, and utilizing the garden. We will discuss the role academics can play in promoting natural places for children, as well as the obstacles encountered. We will present strategies for overcoming the institutional and financial challenges that often hamper grassroots efforts to bring nature into the schoolyard.

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