The global pandemic forced teachers to change how they reached students. For some, that meant virtual learning, but as schools opened back up to face-to-face classrooms, more teachers took advantage of outdoor spaces. The natural light and fresh breezes proved to be the perfect environment to encourage learning.

Of course, bringing the classroom outdoors was not new to everyone. A handful of schools across the United States have been teaching health and sustainable initiatives outside for years. For example, Healthy Schools Campaign, a non-profit organization that believes that all students should have access to healthy school environments where they can learn and thrive, has been working with one middle school science teacher for quite some time.

At James Wadsworth Elementary School, in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, Pannha Sann saw a great opportunity for his science class that utilized the school’s public garden. Instead of focusing on large lessons inside, Sann incorporates mini lessons learned out in the garden into what he’s already teaching in the classroom.

According to Healthy Schools Campaign, Senn was teaching his 8th grade students a lesson on energy, so they talked about the food growing in the garden as an energy source. His 7th grade students were learning about soil formation and used the garden as a living laboratory. His 6th grade students were learning about cellular respiration, and plants growing in the garden were a great way to bring that subject to life.

In addition to using the gardens as an example for existing lesson plans, students are taught about planting and harvesting foods. Maintaining the gardens teaches them where the food they eat comes from, what grows together, how to keep pests away, seasons for certain foods and more. They are also more accustomed to trying unfamiliar foods that are grown in the gardens.

Senn told Healthy Schools Campaign that “it’s good that these kids see the actual vegetable and see how it works and what it does for you.”

This particular garden program at James Wadsworth Elementary School is made available through a partnership with Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands, another nonprofit group that is committed to supporting healthy and sustainable programs in schools. This particular program, Space to Grow, helps schools create new outdoor spaces that can be used to promote healthy and sustainable instruction during the school day.

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