Introducing Blogger, Emily Shipman

It’s hard to put into words just how much I love gardening. I’ve tried, but I always come up a little short. When you really love something, this can be frustrating, especially when you want to share this passion with everyone you know.

The combination of being outside, engaging all of my senses, and nurturing living things is so enjoyable, so rewarding. There’s nothing like it. Not to mention the pride of producing my own food.

And connecting with the cycles of nature, both on a macro scale—like the seasons— and a micro scale—like caterpillar life cycles—instills a sense of wonder and joy only comparable to raising a child.

The strange thing is that gardening was such an integral part of my life growing up I wasn’t aware of this passion until I left home and wasn’t gardening anymore. I suppose this is how it works with kids.

I grew up with a large vegetable garden and perennial beds around my house. My mom set aside small plots in each that I was responsible for planting and tending. If she had a plant in her garden that I liked, I’d divide it or take cuttings and make a small version of my own.

Children take to gardening naturally—exploring, observing, and caring for plants and soil. These kinds of activities are a normal part of a child’s learning and development and reinforce traits that while less common in adults, benefit them greatly. The empathy, wonder, and curiosity cultivated in the garden create kids who are happier, healthier, and more connected to their community and the natural world.

When I met the KidsGardening team for the first time, I felt understood. My struggle to describe the power of gardening was no longer an issue. In fact, I didn’t need words. They just knew. For 35 years, this organization has been working to get more kids learning through the garden because they’ve learned firsthand and through our nationwide network of educators that gardening changes lives. It:

  • Improves self-esteem and attitudes toward school. 1
  • Improves social skills and behavior.2
  • Improves environmental attitudes especially in younger students.3
  • Increases group cohesion.4
  • Improves interpersonal relationships.5
  • Improves students' attitudes towards vegetables and fruit and healthy snacks.6
  • Improves attitudes towards healthy foods and increase the perceived value of vegetables.7
  • Significantly increases science achievement scores.8

And this is just the beginning. Every day we hear beautiful stories of educators inspiring children through garden-based learning. Every year, new studies come out reporting the measurable benefits of this work with kids.

My hope is to use this blog as a way to document and share both what we know, and what we are learning about the benefits of gardening with kids. Please join me as I explore the kids gardening movement we are helping to lead across this nation.


1 Sheffield, B.K.. 1992. The affective cognitive effects of an interdisciplinary garden-based curriculum on underachieving elementary students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

2 DeMarco, L., P.D. Relf and A.McDaniel. 1999. Integrating gardening into the elementary school curriculum. HortTechnology. 9(2): 276-281.

3 Skelly, S.M., and J.M. Zajicek. 1998. The effect an interdisciplinary garden program, on the environmental attitudes of elementary school students. HortTechnology 8 (4):579-583

4 Bunn, D.E. 1986. Group cohesiveness is enhanced as children engage in plant-stimulated discovery activities. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture. 1:37-43.

5 Campbell, A.N., T.M. Waliczek, J.C., Bradley, J.M. Zajicek, and C.D. Townsend. 1997. The influence of activity -based environmental instruction on high school students' environmental attitudes. HortTechnology 7(3): p. 309. Waliczek, T.M. and J.M. Zajicek. 1999. School gardening: Improving environmental attitudes of children through hands-on learning. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 17:180-184.

6 Lineberger, S.E. and J.M. Zajicek. 1999. School gardens: can a hands-on teaching tool affect students’ attitudes and behaviors regarding fruits and vegetables. HortTechnology. 10(3)L 593-597.

7 Cavaliere, D. 1987. How zucchini won fifth-grade hearts. Children Today, 16(3), 18-21.

8 Klemmer, C.D., T.M.Waliczek and J.M Zajicek. 2005. Growing minds: the effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students. HortTechnology. 15(3): 448-452. Smith, L.L. and C.E. Motsenbocker. 2005. Impact of hands-on science through school gardening in Louisiana public elementary schools. HortTechnology. 15(3): 439-443.

Introducing Blogger, Christine Gall

In my last blog post, I wrote about ways to approach teaching in outdoor classrooms, touching upon the need to shift ingrained mindsets concerning when and where learning can take place, and providing a variety of teaching tips. Many of the strategies I included are practices I’ve used and continue to use when working with youth outside. These days, this means a school garden, but in the past I’ve spent time utilizing everything from haylofts and dairy barns to sugarbushes and heavily wooded trails as classrooms.

I’ve been teaching youth about food since 2010. In college, I spent two summers working at a Farm Camp in the lower Hudson River Valley ten minutes away from the suburban town where I grew up, and thirty-five minutes away from New York City. Campers collected eggs, weeded in the greenhouse, harvested vegetables from the fields, helped move sheep from pasture to pasture, and prepared everything from small snacks to full meals. Many of these youth were from surrounding towns, but some kids ventured up from the city—many of them had never played in the dirt or conceived of food as coming from somewhere other than the grocery store.

Somewhere between arriving at the farm for staff orientation and handing out freshly harvested celebratory carrots on the last day of camp I fell in love with agriculture and education. Not only did I find the farm, with its versatile and ever-changing landscape, an engaging and inspiration arena for teaching, but there was something magically universal about discussing food with youth.

And so, I decided to move to Vermont to spend six months living on top of a mountain in a small off-grid cabin. I believed that in order to teach youth about food and agriculture, I needed to better understand it myself. I spent my days tending a forty-head sheep flock, cultivating fields using antique plows and two rambunctious draft horses, picking berries, and delighting in haying season. I felled trees, participated in farmer’s markets, bottled maple syrup and drove stick shift for the first time while on a mission to pick up five Tamworth piglets (I stalled once on a dirt road three minutes from my destination). Over the course of these six months I only occasionally worked with youth, facilitating service learning projects or leading wide-eyed school groups around the farm to meet the animals.

Following this growing season, I took a small step backwards from farm work and a big step forward in field of education. I spent the next four years teaching in a variety of different settings: daily field trips on another farm in Vermont, enrichment classes in the gardens and cafeterias of a rural school district in Maine, a self-designed summer camp program, after-school cooking clubs. I did a little bit of everything, but always about food – broadening comfort zones, expanding tasting horizons, connecting youth to the land, candidly exploring eating habits, and fostering cultures where agriculture and discussions about food were normalized, commonplace and seamlessly integrated into everyday life.

Much of the future content in my blog posts will be drawn from my personal experiences as an educator. I hope to share teaching tips, helpful resources and ideas for garden-based projects. All of these blog posts will also be featured on my Pinterest board, Garden Education with Christine, where you can find everything from creative crafts and gardening advice to educational videos and my favorite food-based books to read with youth.

Forging New Connections with our New Blog Format

One of our goals at KidsGardening is to establish a strong connection with those of you around the country—educators, parents, and community members—who are actively working to bring the many benefits of garden-based learning to youngsters through school, community, and home gardens. We want to develop dynamic and meaningful relationships with all of you who are out there “in the field,” cultivating children’s minds, hearts, and bodies as well as plants. We hope we can pass along information and ideas that will inspire you and make your youth gardening endeavors more successful. And in return, we hope that you’ll connect with us through your comments to let us know about your real-life achievements and challenges and to offer your suggestions for how we, as a national organization, can help you get the resources you need to connect kids to the garden and to keep the world of school and youth gardening growing and thriving.

To this end, we are excited to share news of some changes we’ll be making to our Growing Ideas Blog. For starters, you’ll now see posts twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, instead of just once a week. Next, four members of our KidsGardening staff will be posting regularly in rotation. Each of these staff members will bring a specific focus to her posts, one that reflects her unique interests, expertise, and experience.

Executive Director Emily Shipman’s background in sustainable development, agriculture, food systems, and food security reflects her interest in youth gardening as a catalyst for social change. In her posts she’ll be exploring both what we know and what we’re learning about the transformative power of gardening with kids. In addition to writing from her own perspective, she’ll be talking with advocates, practitioners, and thought leaders across the youth gardening spectrum, sharing their inspiration and information we all can learn from.


Senior Education Specialist Sarah Pounders has been active in the field of youth gardening for more than 20 years and brings wide-ranging experience helping educators integrate garden-based learning into the classroom. And as the parent of a 9 year-old and a 5 year-old, she also brings a parental perspective to the world of kids’ gardening, both as the garden coordinator at her daughter’s school and as an avid home gardener. In her blog posts she’ll offer ideas for ways educators and parents can enhance the learning opportunities and fun that gardening offers.


Education Specialist Christine Gall brings a wealth of hands-on experience in garden and food-based learning, both in school settings and in programs at educational farms. Her blog posts will be drawn from her personal experiences as an educator as well as her passionate commitment to connecting kids with healthful food systems.



Horticulturist Susan Littlefield brings more than 30 years of experience helping folks solve their gardening problems and get the information they need for successful growing. Her background as a garden writer and enthusiastic home gardener, along with the fun she had introducing her two now-grown kids to the world of plants, will help her connect in an accessible way with those active in school and youth gardening. In her blog posts she is looking forward to sharing practical tips and interesting ideas and information, as well as answering your gardening questions.


Please join the conversation! We welcome your feedback on our new blog format. We’d also like to hear suggestions for topics you’d like to see addressed or ideas for ways to make our communications with you more useful, as well as your thoughts and comments on specific blog posts. We hope our blog will become an on-going dialog, connecting the KidsGardening organization with the wide and wonderful world of kids’ gardening!

Valentine’s Day Botany

Looking for a fun way to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your garden club or gardening class? Try exploring the botanical royalty of the holiday: the cacao tree and rose bush. Seriously, what says love better than a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses? With plant products in the limelight, Valentine’s Day provides you with the perfect opportunity to show your young gardeners the important role plants play in our celebrations and traditions. Here are a few fun facts to share with your kids this Valentine’s Day:

The Cacao or Chocolate Tree

  • The scientific name of the cacao or chocolate tree is Theobroma cacao. Theobroma translates to "food of the gods." Perfect, right?
  • The cacao is an evergreen tree native to tropical rainforests in Central and South America. Its flowers develop along the trunk and are pollinated by small flies. The fruit is a pod filled with bitter seeds (called cocoa beans) that are surrounded by a sweet seed coat. In order for the seeds to transform into the delicious treat we know, the seeds must be fermented by two different types of fungi. For more information about this process, check out Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month article.
  • Commercially, 70% of cocoa comes from West Africa. It is also grown in Southeast Asia and Central and South America. The highest producing countries (listed in order) are The Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, and Ecuador. The optimal growing conditions occur in regions right around the Equator. For great in-depth information, including videos about the production and processing of cocoa, visit The Story of Chocolate from the Chocolate Council.
  • The National Confectioners Association recently reported that 70% of Americans will give chocolate or candy gifts for Valentine’s Day. They estimate that 40 million boxes of chocolates will be purchased for the holiday.
    Check out the results of their 2017 Valentine’s Day survey.

Roses and Cut Flowers

  • During Victorian times, flowers were given special meanings, and small bouquets would be given to friends and lovers in lieu of notes or letters. Visit the Language of Flowers website to discover the historical meanings associated with some common flowers.
  • Keep it real. Remind young gardeners that all flowers share the same purpose:
    to produce seeds. The flower characteristics we find attractive, like a pleasant fragrance or eye-catching appearance, are actually adaptations that evolved over time to attract pollinators to help transport pollen from the stamens to the pistils to fertilize the ovules and make seeds.

  • No other flower inspires more sentiment than the rose. A symbol of love, beauty and peace and designated as our national floral emblem, roses grace gardens and homes across the United States. With the oldest fossil records of roses found in Colorado dating back to 35 million years ago, native rose species are now found around the globe in the Northern Hemisphere. Records suggested that human cultivation of roses began 5,000 years ago in China and quickly spread throughout the civilized world.
  • estimates that more than 250 million roses will be grown for Valentine’s Day 2017 and that 35% of American’s will buy them as gifts, spending close to $2 billion dollars. Now that’s a lot of roses!

Do you have any good Valentine’s Day facts or garden-related activity ideas to share with other garden educators or parents? Please leave them in the comments below.

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! Go out and support the horticulture industry!

The Spring Garden Begins

Sarah P – Education Specialist

We kicked off the spring garden season last week at Glen Loch Elementary, where my daughter, Abby, attends school, with the construction of our new light garden (a 3-Tier SunLite® Garden purchased by our PTO thanks to a fundraiser held at our local Chipotle Restaurant – thank you Chipotle and Slow Foods!) and the planting of our tomato seeds. The light garden looks fantastic! Although I realize appearance is not important to functionality, it is a big plus for the principal to think that the unit is an attractive addition to the classroom. It is on wheels, so that we can easily move it as necessary, and its deep, sturdy trays provide enough planting space to allow each third grade class to start their own tray of plants. Since none of our classrooms have exterior windows, having a light garden is critical for giving the students a chance to see the plants grow from seed to seed and truly experience firsthand their full life cycle.

Why tomatoes? The Texas state curriculum specifies that third graders learn about tomatoes (no clue how they decide on this stuff), thus determining our choice of plants. We gathered a large selection of different types of seeds including cherry, grape, Roma, beefsteak and a couple of heirloom varieties, and each student planted 3 seeds in their classroom tray. We want the kids to be able to compare the different types as they are growing and (hopefully) also in taste tests at harvest time.

The spring garden plan is for each class to pick a tomato-based recipe and then grow a theme garden to match. So for instance, if they pick a pizza garden, they will grow tomatoes, basil, and oregano. A salsa garden might include tomatoes, onions, cilantro and peppers. Brainstorming by the kids thus far has resulted in the following ideas: a spaghetti garden, a lasagna garden, a tomato soup garden, a pizza garden, a salsa garden, a salad garden and my favorite…a ketchup garden. Each class has their own raised bed garden to plant and maintain. Our goal is to have the tomato seedlings ready to plant outside in these beds in March.

The students had some amazing questions as we planted. Some I could answer, such as “What happens if we plant more than one seed in each cell?” But they also stumped me with questions like “Why are the seeds so small?” Honestly, although I told them that each kind of plant evolved to best survive in its native environment, I could not come up with a solid reason for the size of the seed. Guess we will have to do some searching on that one.

We planted on Friday and by Monday we already had seedlings poking their little heads out of the soil. I think I am just as anxious as the kids to watch them grow. Although I’ve started plants from seed with my kids many times at home, my attitude has always pretty much been, if they come up and grow well that’s awesome; if they don’t, well, we’ll just go buy some transplants. But between the PTO investment in new equipment and the kids’ excitement about their seeds, I feel a bit more pressure riding on the success of this planting.

Anyone else out there planting seeds with kids indoors right now? Please feel free to use the comment section below to share any relevant stories and helpful tips!