Gardening: does it make kids smarter?

Research indicated children who participated in gardening improved academically.

Research indicated children who participated in gardening improved academically.

School gardens might be fun, but research shows they also improve academic achievement.

Most children like getting out in the garden – and it's good for them in more ways than one.

Last year, a study in the US found that kids participating in their school's garden club achieved a 12 to 15 per cent average improvement in their maths and science test results, and had a corresponding improvement in their reading and language skills.

These students from Pillans Point School, Tauranga, have embraced their school garden initiative.

These students from Pillans Point School, Tauranga, have embraced their school garden initiative.

Their behaviour and attitude improved too – based on teachers' anecdotal observations, there was a reduction in classroom misbehaviour and an increase in attendance.

* School develops medicinal garden
* School seeds a passion for gardening
* School plants an orchard in a morning 


Similar results have been found in New Zealand in a two-and-a-half-year study on the impact of edible gardens in education settings in the South Island.

Conducted in 2011 and funded by the Healthy Eating Healthy Action Nutrition Fund, the research found that school gardens had many benefits for students, including helping them stay physically active and enhancing their self-esteem and sense of responsibility.

The kids' attitude to fruit and vegetables improved and their consumption of them increased.

The study also found that having an edible garden in a school context aligned well with many key competencies of the curriculum (such as thinking; using language, symbols and text; managing self; relating to others; and contributing), so it helped students achieve in their lessons too.

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However, the New Zealand study also identified some barriers to success with a school garden and/or making the most of the educational opportunities that it offered to the participating students. 

In particular, it identified that a lack of time, ability to maintain teacher and volunteer enthusiasm and access to resources and funding could prove problematic in creating a sustained and successful school gardening programme. 


• Maths and budgeting skills: Children measure the size of a garden, calculate the volume of soil they need, and weigh and measure what they harvest.

• Science and environmental info: Gardening helps kids learn about seed and plant growth, the weather, the seasons, good bugs and pests.

• English and literacy skills: Young gardeners read seed packets and recipes (and gardening magazines!), and keep records of how their garden grows. 

• Cooking and healthy eating skills: Kids learn basic cooking skills like safe food handling, plus studies show that children who grow their own food are more likely to choose to eat fresh fruit and vegetables.

• Observational skills: Cultivating a garden and recognising the connections between the elements and seasonal changes improves kids' observational awareness.

• Life skills: Working cooperatively and sharing has been shown to improve communication.

• Practical and creative skills: Children can take part in designing and building their gardens.

• Social and emotional skills: A study by the University of Colorado found that students who participated in a one-year gardening programme showed a significant improvement in self-understanding and the ability to work in groups.

• Integration: A Canadian study found that a multicultural school garden helped immigrants to share their culture and feel a greater sense of belonging. 

• Tikanga and te reo: Kids learn plant names and traditional gardening methods, and celebrate events such as Matariki.

What do you think?

Does your children's or grandchildren's school have a garden? Do you think participating in a garden club would help with their academic achievement, and if so in what way? Or do you think being part of a club is more about the social benefits of learning teamwork and communication, or picking up practical skills around horticulture or healthy cooking and eating? Let us know in the comments below.

 - NZ Gardener


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