Research Summary

School gardens enhance academic performance and dietary outcomes in children

Garden-based learning can positively impact academic performance and promote fruit and vegetable consumption

Journal of School Health

This study of peer-reviewed literature focused on school gardens in relation to academic performance and dietary outcomes in children. Inclusion criteria for this study were school garden interventions lasting at least one month in the K-12 grade range and included measures of academic performance and/or diet. Fifteen individual studies met these criteria.

Twelve of these studies measured school gardens’ effects on fruit and vegetable (FV) intake. Interventions included specifically designed garden curricula, comparisons of nutrition education lessons with and without gardening, or garden-based lessons integrated into science classes. These interventions involved at least 9 lessons. Half of the studies included fourth and/or fifth grade students, with the other studies including younger and more advanced grades.

Dietary outcome measures were either predictors of and/or reported FV intake. Predictors included nutrition/dietary knowledge, willingness to taste and/or attitudes toward FV, and preference for or choosing FV for meals or snacks. Results indicated significant improvements in FV intake predictors. Results on reported FV intake, however, were mixed. Two studies showed no change; three showed an increase in FV consumption; and the remaining studies focused only on vegetable consumption.

Four studies included in this review investigated academic outcomes in schools with garden-based interventions and included students from first to sixth grade. Intervention durations ranged from 2 hours per week over a 14-week period to a program implemented over a two-year period. Each included an experiential school gardening curriculum as part of the intervention. Academic outcomes were measured by achievement tests in the areas of science and math. One of the four studies also included a reading achievement test. Two of the four studies found significantly higher science achievement scores among gardeners compared with nongardeners. One study showed significant improvements in math scores.

Teachers participating in this study generally indicated that gardens were a valuable teaching tool. These garden studies also indicated an indirect, positive effect on children’s social development. These studies offer evidence that garden-based learning can positively impact academic performance and promote fruit and vegetable consumption.