Learning Gardens and Learning Landscapes: Connecting Young People to Nature


Learning Gardens and Learning Landscapes: Connecting Young People to Nature

In the February 2018 installment of NAAEE's monthly webinar series, we were joined by Dilafruz WIlliams (Portland State University), Nilda Cosco (Natural Learning Initiative at NC State University), and Robin Moore (Natural Learning Initiative at NC State University), who discussed learning gardens and landscapes and how we can design opportunities to connect more young people (and educators!) to nature.

watch the recorded webinar

Followup Q & A with Dilafruz

Q1 (webinar participant): How immersive do these kinds of learning experiences need to be to reap the benefits?

A1 (Dilafruz): In my experience (having visited dozens of school gardens, some long-term, and having founded a learning gardens program in 2004 that is still going strong), it seems that one-time “visits” that do not link garden experiences back into the classroom, are not powerful. Consistency matters as does the length of time kids spend in the garden. And clarity of goals matters, too. Research on garden based education shows a plethora of goals all at once, often not measurable.

Q2 (webinar participant): What can you do in urban areas where there is limited outdoor green space?

A2 (Dilafruz): School grounds are some of the few green spaces in even congested cities; several schools are de-paving their parking lots…they have reaped huge benefits for both school gardens and community gardens on school grounds. In Portland, a non-profit, DE-PAVE partners with schools to support such initiatives.

Raised beds and towers are creative gardening initiatives. Some schools have Aquaponics programs. They are quite phenomenal as students take the initiative to start these projects!

Q3 (webinar participant): How can we capitalize on students’ interest in technology to explore the outdoors? What are good ways to combine technology and outdoor learning?

A3 (Dilafruz): I have been to High Schools where the Aquaponics programs and start-up gardens along with greenhouses are built by students. Some schools have closed down their traditional “shop” programs. In their place you see kids growing food that sometimes is served in the cafeteria. More importantly, they learn about academics in these programs. It is quite re-affirming to see students drive these projects with the help of non-profit partners.

Also, I am not in favor of using technology per se excessively in the garden since I want students to be using all of their senses and technology can intervene with the nuances of getting in touch with our bodies. Having said that, there are lots of experiments conducted in the gardens where technology comes in handy. But we need to use it sparingly.

Q4 (webinar participant): Any suggestions for funding sources for building learning gardens at local public schools?

A4 (Dilafruz): Try to get your board members and district staff to visit gardens especially to demonstrate how kids are learning academics. Bring local philanthropists to the garden and let them interact with kids. Many state departments (Education, Agriculture) are now offering grants for Farm to School and School Gardens. Also, partnerships with universities can help in terms of seeking funding together.

Q5 (webinar participant): What a great hour…it has spoken to me in a very deep way! I am a late “bloomer” in gardening but I’ve volunteered with children for many years. I have no formal education in this area. I will be retiring soon and would like to work my way into working in this field. Where should I start?

A5 (Dilafruz): Please visit our Learning Gardens website:http://learning-gardens.org/

Also google: Edible Schoolyards, Education Outside; LifeLab; Living Classrooms.. There are tons of workshops offered all over the country.  

In Portland, we offer a garden coordinator certificate program. Check out here: School Garden Coordinator Certificate Training June 25-29th in Portland, OR. 

Through this 35 hour training, leaders in the field will share best practices for building, using and maintaining school and youth food gardening programs. By the end of this training, you will have knowledge, skills and resources to implement and maintain an edible school garden project built on a foundation of broad community involvement. 

For details and to register, please follow this link: http://www.growing-gardens.org/our-programs/youth-grow/school-garden-coo...

We also offer Urban Education Farm graduate course as part of our Food Systems Certificate at Portland State University.

Q6 (webinar participant): Do you incorporate native plants in your gardens? Any ideas on how to do this to support learning?

A6 (Dilafruz): Yes, rain gardens, food gardens, native gardens are all part of the mix. Usually Facilities personnel are interested in Native Gardens; many non-profits specializing in native plants will enthusiastically support intiatives.

Q7 (webinar participant): How do you involve students in the design process?

A7 (Dilafruz): This is the best part for empowering students! If adults let go of control and let students experiment with guided support, they can teach a lot and learn in the process.​

Dilafruz Williams

Dilafruz Williams is Professor and co-founder of Leadership for Sustainability Education and Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Portland State University. Among her long-term partnerships are the founding of: an Environmental School, several school gardens, and a Learning Gardens Laboratory on a 12-acre property that functions as a research and education site serving educators and their students many of whom are low-income, immigrants, and/or refugees.

Dilafruz’s recent research has focused extensively on garden-based education – its conceptualization and effectiveness in engagement of children and youth that enhances their holistic and academic learning. She directs the NSF-funded project: Science in the Learning Gardens. She has studied school gardens across 12 states in USA and in many countries across continents.

Her coauthored book, Learning Gardens and Sustainability Education: Bringing Life to Schools and Schools to Life (Williams & Brown; Routledge, 2012), has innumerable real-life examples of students’ writings and projects, teacher and administrator stories of successes despite challenges, and the development of a pedagogical framework to guide garden-based learning.

Dilafruz is recent past-president of Environmental Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. Among the more than 200 publications, presentations, keynotes, and workshops that she has offered world-wide and locally, Dilafruz’s scholarship stretches over several interconnected areas: environmental education, sustainability education, garden-based education, service-learning, social justice, and strategic school-community-university partnerships.

In 2003-2011, Dilafruz was elected city-wide to the Portland School Board where she championed policies for equity and excellence for the 50,000 students in the district. She also served as Chair of Council of the Great City Schools housed in Washington, D.C. and comprising 67 of the largest school districts in the United States. She was invited to the White House as part of a delegation of the Council to discuss the president’s new education funding initiatives.

Dilafruz commenced her career as a science and mathematics teacher, grades 6-11, then moved to academia where she has served in many leadership roles that include providing professional development and mentoring support. A native of India, she has received several Awards for excellence in teaching, service, and scholarship. Dilafruz has graduate degrees from Bombay, Syracuse, and Harvard Universities in the sciences, public administration, and philosophy of education.

Dilafruz’s passion for gardens is evident in her own delight and engagement with soil and life in its multitude of manifestations of wonders and mystery.

Nilda Cosco

Nilda Cosco, PhD, is Director of Programs, The Natural Learning Initiative; Research Associate Professor, College of Design; and former Director of the Center for Universal Design at NC State University. Her responsibilities include: design programming and research of outdoor environments for children with and without disabilities; development of training activities for designers, educators, and community members interested in creating high quality outdoor environments for children and families; development of printed and online dissemination materials; and coordination of state-wide comprehensive projects (design, environmental intervention, training, and evaluation).

Dr. Cosco holds a degree in Educational Psychology, Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina and a Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture, School of Landscape Architecture, Heriot Watt University / Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland.

Her primary research interest is the impact of outdoor environments on child and family health outcomes such as healthy nutrition, active lifestyles, attention functioning, and overall wellbeing, particularly as they relate to natural components of the built environment. She is also involved in direct intervention and pre/post evaluation of outdoor improvement programs in childcare centers.

In January 2000, Dr. Cosco co-founded with Professor Robin Moore the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) at the College of Design, NC State University.

Robin Moore

Robin Moore holds degrees in architecture (London University) and urban planning (MIT), and for most of his career has worked in the field of landscape architecture as educator, researcher, and consultant. Moore is an international authority on the design of children's play and learning environments, user needs research, and participatory public open space design. His designs for children's spaces in the USA include the well-known Environmental Yard, in Berkeley, California (recipient in 1988 of the Outstanding Contribution to the Practice of Design Research by the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). 

As a design consultant, Moore has been involved in the design of the Nature PlayScape at the Cincinnati Nature Center, Kids Together Park, Cary; Blanchie Carter Discovery Park, at Southern Pines Primary School (featured in the New York Times, October 1999); the Playspace family play center in Raleigh; and Playport in the Raleigh-Durham Airport. Design projects in Argentina include the Lekotek Play Library; Vilas Racket Club child and family center; Friends Club Adventure Playpark, and the Ecological Village. Currently, he is a public participation consultant to an interdisciplinary team working with the City of Lisbon, Portugal. He was design consultant to the Chicago Zoological Society for the programming and design and of Explore!, the new children's facility at Brookfield Zoo, Illinois; and for the City of Durham for the programming and design of renovations to Duke Park as well as the development of the Durham Parks and Recreation Master Plan. As director of the NC State University Natural Learning Initiative, Moore is currently involved in the design and/or renovation of dozens of outdoor spaces for preschools, special education facilities, and schoolgrounds in North Carolina. 

Recently completed works include renovation of the outdoor play and learning environments at the Bright Horizons Family Solutions Child Development Center, Research Triangle Park. Robin Moore has won many awards for his contributions to the field of design. The American Society of Landscape Architects awarded him an Honoary Membership in 2012. Countries including Sweden, Japan, and Argentina have honored him, where his work in the design of outdoor play facilities for children and families is used as a model. Moore has many years of international experience in design facilitation and participatory design program development, including the North Carolina Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, N.C. Robin Moore is a member of the eight-country Growing Up in Cities action research project sponsored by UNESCO and is co-director of the Buenos Aires and Jordan field projects. 

He has lectured in many countries on issues of childhood and environment and responses to those issues through landscape design. Moore is the author or co-author of Childhood's Domain: Play and Place in Child Development (1986), Plants for Play (1993), the Play for All Guidelines (1987), the Complete Playground Book (1993), Natural Learning (1997), and numerous articles on the use of the outdoor environment by children and youth and families, and their involvement in the planning and design process. He was the principal investigator for the US Access Board update of the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards for Children's Environments. Professor Moore is past president of the International Association for the Child's Right to Play (IPA), and for twenty years was editor of the IPA magazine, PlayRights.