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Inclusive Signage at Flatwoods Elementary

KidsGardening defines Inclusion as: belonging, voice, community, and safety. Having “Inclusive Signage” in the garden means incorporating these aspects in outdoor learning spaces through visual signs.

Nicole Dugat, Executive Director of Schoolyard Roots, shares how they incorporate inclusive signage at Flatwoods Elementary’s school garden program.

A big white sign in a garden that reads Schoolyard Roots Flatwoods Garden

Schoolyard Roots is a non-profit in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that operates and teaches in 11 elementary schools in the area. One of the schools, Flatwoods Elementary, was awarded the Little Seeds Pollinator Pals Grant in Summer 2021, which helped fund a garden rebuild, pollinator garden, and inclusive signage.

The garden now hosts a diverse mix of annual and perennial fruiting and flowering plants that attract beneficial pollinators, show the full life cycle of plants, and invite curiosity and exploration through the senses. Nicole emphasizes that “one of our biggest jobs as garden educators is helping people see how people and things are all connected,” and that the garden is not only a place to not connect with nature, but also ourselves and one another.

A group of children are sitting and standing at a white picnic table. On the table is a flat bin with dried bean pods in it. Some children are holding bean pods.

Flatwoods students saving seeds from the garden. 

At Flatwoods, 35% of students identify as Hispanic or Latine, 75-80% of which are English Language Learners whose primary or home language is Spanish or an indigenous language.

With a large population of multilingual students, inclusive signage at Flatwoods extends beyond the physical garden space. In addition to having dual-sided bilingual garden signs, all worksheets and flyers sent home for Flatwoods’ garden program are in both Spanish and English.

“When a student who is living in a world where most of what they are reading or seeing is different from the language that their family speaks at home sees in the garden something that they recognize — whether its a plant or a word on a sign — that student feels a sense of belonging, and a sense of excitement because they can make connections between the garden, themselves, their family, their home, and their life at school.”

A collage of four garden signs that read Repollo de Napa, Acelgas, Cilantro, Colrizada

Spanish signs for napa cabbage, swiss chard, cilantro, and kale.

Inclusive signs represent the students for whom they are created, not just their language. At Flatwoods, the students help grow a bounty of culturally relevant plants that they are often already familiar with. Nicole shares a story of a student who identified cilantro (which has a different pronunciation but the same spelling in Spanish and English) in the garden as the same ingredient his mom uses to prepare a soup. He knew the shape of the leaves (and that it wasn’t parsley!) and shared that the seeds (coriander) were also used in his mom’s cooking.

“It’s a point of storytelling, conversation, excitement, and interest for all students to talk about how we have different names for things. It becomes a great entry point for talking about food, food culture, histories, families, food stories, and engaging in those types of connections in the garden.”

Nicole notes that all students are equally intrigued to learn new vocabulary and enjoy engaging with the signage found throughout the garden. She recommends that kid-friendly gardens should have signs that:

  • Invite people to interact with the garden with sensory invitations:
    SMELL, TASTE, TOUCH, LOOK, LISTEN
  • Spark imagination, thought, and ask questions:
    “What does this remind you of?”
    “What does this plant look like?”
    “Where would you go if you could fly like a butterfly?”
  • Have pictures, especially when working with younger kids
  • Use languages that are spoken by students in the garden
  • Are located in places where kids will easily see them (i.e. at appropriate eye-level)
  • Are bright, colorful, and inviting
  • Help people feel welcomed and like they belong
Colorfully painted paving stones on grass, in between raised garden beds.

Colorful, fun pavers are placed throughout the Flatwoods garden pathways.

“I think there is a lot of opportunity to spark imagination and through self-guided interaction in gardens.”

She also shares instructions and materials for creating durable, metal garden signs that can withstand weather conditions better than wood.

  • Start with a (2x4) aluminum sheet purchased from the hardware store (most hardware stores can cut these to size for you).
  • Paint base color on sign with an exterior latex paint.
  • Paint details on sign with acrylic paints or other exterior paints (both work well; for thin lines use an acrylic paint pen).
  • Seal the sign with multiple coats of clear metal sealant (i.e. Rustoleum Painter's Touch 2X Ultra Cover spray can sealant).
  • Use metal screws to secure signs to 4x4 wood posts (wood posts are secured into ground using concrete before signs are attached).

The impact of Schoolyard Roots’ garden program at Flatwoods Elementary has been significant. Each of the garden lessons are linked with academic standards, so students are able to apply the concepts they learn with multidisciplinary understanding. Students have seen an improved connection to the natural world, willingness to try new foods and things overall, ability to make classroom connections in the real world, and enthusiasm for learning and excitement for coming to school.

To learn more about Schoolyard Roots and the work they do, follow them @schoolyardroots on Instagram and Facebook.

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