Gardening, Self-Efficacy and Self-Esteem

By Hoffman, August John; Thompson, Dawn et al. | Community College Enterprise, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Gardening, Self-Efficacy and Self-Esteem


Hoffman, August John, Thompson, Dawn, Cruz, Arlene, Community College Enterprise


The current study explores the relationship between a community college gardening program and changes in participants' self-esteem and self-efficacy relative to academic performance. Thirty-eight community college students who were enrolled in an introductory psychology course volunteered to participate during a sixteen-week term. Students were given weekly assignments and instructions regarding garden maintenance and horticultural activities. Results indicate those students who remained active in the gardening program for the full 16 weeks reported higher levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy, as well as improvements in academic work. The results support the hypothesis of the pilot study. The authors discuss ramifications of the qualitative research as well as suggestions for future research.

Introduction

Recent research indicates that horticultural and outdoor activities such as gardening have profound positive effects in terms of psychological well-being and self-esteem (Gauvin & Spence, 1996). Urban communities and primary and secondary schools are beginning to realize the long-term benefits of a consistent program involving gardening activities. The first studies conducted to determine the relationship between gardening activities and well-being date back to 1879 at the Pennsylvania Friends Asylum for the Insane. Patients who suffered from a variety of mental disorders found planting and horticulture beneficial. Since that time, various hospitals, schools and clinics have used basic horticultural activities as worthwhile therapies for mental health.

More recently researchers have re-discovered the importance of such programs with urban student populations. Typically, children growing up in urban areas have little experience with gardening and have welcomed the opportunity to discover it as an educational experience. Horticultural programs and "garden patches" were very common during the 1920s and the 1930s, when many primary and secondary schools incorporated these activities in daily academic programs and recognized their educational value (Moore, 1995). Maria Montessori (1912) realized the importance of learning in non-traditional environments and felt children should learn with their senses. Unfortunately, planting and gardening activities fell out of favor in school systems, perhaps as a result of preferences for more traditional learning experiences in the classroom, and the loss to "urban sprawl" of most space available for gardening. As a result, the post-1940s era saw the development of "prefabricated classrooms" and "virtual experiences" with the personal computer replacing real experiences in the garden. Today a large group of individuals (children and adults) rely more on technology for recreation and entertainment than physical activities such as gardening. Bouillion and Gomez (2001) describe a form of "disconnection" between students' culture and intellectually challenging school environments as an important problem in inner city schools. According to Bouillion and Gomez, schools should provide a partnership between the community and students that allows children to learn in a more "connected" way.

Review of literature

Substantial data suggests that outdoor activities have positive effects on self-esteem, self-efficacy and mental health (Zimmerman, 2000; Myers, 1998). Mary Myers (1998) established the importance of a gardening project with persons suffering from psychiatric disorders as a means of improving self-empowerment and increasing competence and self-esteem. The primary psychological benefit from a gardening program is the psychosocial component typically associated with one. For example, Myers noted that the community and neighbors became involved with the garden once they saw the patients beginning to work. Rahm (2002) conducted research with inner city youths involved in garden projects for a period of eight weeks, three days per week. Part of the overall goal of the study was to determine connections students made between the gardening program and science, community and work. …

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