Tonya Mandl

To launch our newest project, Design a School Garden with LAUSD (and We'll Build It!), we're publishing a series of pieces from stakeholders who have benefited from outdoor classrooms. Today, teacher Tonya Mandl.

For approximately the past 15 years, the California Department of Education has had a goal of "a garden in every school." Due to the cost and effort required to start and maintain a school garden, the goal of the CDE to have an instructional garden in every school is a tall one. The learning benefits of gardening with children, however, are clear. School gardens are unique learning environments that allow children to practice new skills, address different learning modalities, and present a variety of activities that can be related to the child’s own experience. A garden intrinsically motivates and excites students to learn, recognizes and addresses their prior knowledge, and provides students with choice and control over their own learning.

School gardens are outdoor laboratories where exploration and choice can be encouraged, which piques student interest in a subject and provides concrete experiences to the learner. Activities that take place in school gardens are often inquiry-based and establish connections with mandated classroom curricula. Teachers often use garden-based instruction to teach standards in Mathematics (measurement of plants, soil mixes and fertilizers, planning harvest dates, calculating area and perimeter of garden spaces, creating recipes) and Language Arts (journaling, letter writing, vocabulary development, following written directions). Gardens are also used as a hands-on connection to Social Science concepts (California history, agricultural development of primitive cultures), as an inspiration and venue for visual and performing arts, and as an ideal setting for teaching Health and Nutrition.

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