Wellbeing in school gardens -- The case of the Gardens for Bellies food and environmental education program
School gardens can promote well-being, including interpersonal relations and empathy for nature
This case study explored the role of the outdoor environment in a school garden program on children’s well-being. While previous research documents multiple physical, academic and environmental education benefits of school gardens, research on the link between school garden programs and well-being is scarce.
For this study, researchers used a case study design involving multiple cases. This involved conducting field observations in five different settings of the Gardens for Bellies (GfB) program in Denmark. While the majority of school gardens in other countries are located on school grounds, most of the school gardens in Denmark are located on farms, nature centers, and other settings outside of the school premises. Settings for the GfB program include farms, parks, agricultural schools, playgrounds, nature centers, and private gardens, as well as school grounds. The five settings selected for this study included both rural and urban locations. Three were centrally located school gardens, requiring transportation to and from the garden and open to several schools. Of these, one was at a park, one at a nature center, and one on a farm. The other two settings consisted of a community-based school garden within walking distance of the schools and a school-based garden located at a school. Schools using these gardens serve children preschool through 8th grade and include students with disabilities. Students generally participate in gardening activities once a week; but if the school garden is located on the school grounds, their gardening activities tend to be more frequent. Most GfB programs combine learning about nature and growing food with outdoor cooking and developing tastes and social and personal skills.
The researchers used a dictaphone to record their observations of garden activities, the interactions and collaborations between students, and the interactions between students, garden educators, and teachers. They collected additional data through semi-structured focus groups with students, interviews with teachers and garden staff, and parent surveys. Data collection and analysis focused on (a) well-being, (b) the outdoor environment and related activities and interactions, and (c) general attitudes and learning about the GfB program. The definition of well-being applied to this research included both psychological and social aspects with attention to emotions, competences, successes, and interpersonal relations.
Findings indicated that nature in and around the school garden contributed to students’ well-being in the areas of (1) positive emotions (including feelings of happiness and satisfaction), (2) interpersonal well-being (including positive connections with others and with nature), (3)self-esteem (including positive self-concept and perceived competences), and (4) behavior (including expressions of empathy and cooperation). While for most students, the open, free environment of the garden setting seemed to contribute to their emotional well-being and their interactions with one another, for some students the unstructured environment proved to be somewhat challenging.
This research indicates that school gardens can be a setting for promoting, not only academic learning, but also wellbeing, including interpersonal relations and empathy for nature.