School Gardens Teaching More Than Nutrition

school gardenlInvolving students in school garden activities is not only teaching them about nutrition, but is also boosting their exercise and physical activity. A study of 12 elementary schools in New York state conducted by Cornell University researchers over a two-year period found that elementary school children with gardens were more physically active at school than before their school had gardens. They were also less sedentary at home and elsewhere.

For the study, students wore accelerometers to measure physical activity for three consecutive school days on four separate occasions. Surveys were also used to capture the childrens general activity and sedentary patterns including time at home.

The Results

  • Children that learned in a garden were significantly more physically active compared to an indoor class.

  • On average, children sat for 84 percent and stood for 10 percent of an indoor class.

  • During garden lessons, children moved about much more and sat for only 15 percent of the time while spending the majority of their time walking, standing and kneeling.


This is the first true experiment to measure the effects of school gardens on childrens physical activity, said Nancy Wells, professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornells College of Human Ecology. It is notable that in our intervention, kids were only spending an hour or two per week in the gardens, yet there was a significant difference in physical activity. The findings suggest that if schools embraced gardens further and integrated them into lesson plans, there might be an even greater effect.

The findings show that school gardens are an effective way to begin to nudge kids toward their 60 minutes of daily activity recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Wells added. Given the relatively modest scope of this intervention, the next step would be to design ways to make it easy for schools to adopt garden-based lessons more widely into their curricula.

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