Growing a Garden-Based Approach to Art Education

By Inwood, Hilary; Sharpe, Jennifer | Art Education, July 2018 | Go to article overview

Growing a Garden-Based Approach to Art Education


Inwood, Hilary, Sharpe, Jennifer, Art Education


"IT DOESN'T GET BETTER THAN THIS!" declared Ms. Lakoff, a 5th-grade teacher working on an eco-art installation with her students in the school garden. Anne Lakoff was vocalizing her students' and her own delight at making art outside in their naturalized school garden. Working collaboratively to solve a local environmental challenge-plants being trampled in the school's Medicine Wheel garden-the class worked diligently to collect grapevine growing on the school fence, and weave it into a protective nest-like sculpture surrounding the garden. Lakoff noted that even her students who had a hard time focusing in class were fully on task for this art lesson, finding success that often eludes them in other subject areas. This was evidenced by one student's declaration, "Please don't make us go to recess!" as he preferred to keep working on the installation instead (Inwood, 2009).

With a growing societal awareness of the importance of getting students outside as part of the school day, students and teachers alike are discovering the joys of taking art class outside. Drawing on natural and built environments in their local community, many art teachers are turning to their own school gardens as a fertile site for inquiry, creativity, and exhibition, providing a welcome alternative to the four walls of a traditional classroom. This aligns with the goals of the contemporary movement to reconnect children and youth with nature in their urban and rural communities, which aims to counter nature-deficit disorder (Louv, 2008), better serve those students with natural intelligence (Gardner, 1999), and help to involve children more fully with the places they live (Sobel, 1996, 2004). From an art education perspective, this results in more engaged students, increased exhibition opportunities, and aesthetically improved school grounds; some posit that this may lead to decreased graffiti and vandalism in schoolyards, as well as more positive relations with community partners (Coffey, 1996b).

Digging Deeper

Our community is not alone in experimenting with schoolyards as places to inspire and celebrate students' creative endeavors (Adams, 1999; Danks, 2010; Titman, 1994). This is part of a growing trend to make school grounds a place of rich learning (Blair, 2009; Coffey, 1996a; Danks, 2010; Evergreen, 2000; Gaylie, 2009), rather than empty, asphalted spaces that look more like prison yards. By enhancing the natural features of a schoolyard, such as planting native trees and plants, or improving its design and aesthetic components with seating, play areas and artworks, the entire school property can become a site for learning for all grades, in every season. Schoolyards offer opportunities for studying natural and built environments simultaneously-bringing together learning from science, literacy, and art, and appealing to a wide variety of students' learning preferences. Ever-changing subject matter for drawing, painting, and photography can be found right outside the classroom door, as can sources of free, natural art materials, and an innovative set of exhibition possibilities. Taking students outside to learn about art is a holistic approach that activates cognitive learning, signified by the head; experiential or psychomotor learning, represented by the hands; and affective learning, symbolized by the heart, which may help them become better connected with the environments in which they live (Sipos, Battisti, & Grimm, 2008).

Educators and researchers alike are contributing to a growing understanding of the benefits of involving students of all ages in learning in their schoolyards and local communities. Involvement in school gardens has been shown to improve test scores and academic outcomes (Alexander, North, & Hendren, 1995; Cutter-Mackenzie, 2009; Pennington, 2001; Waliczek, Bradley, & Zajicek, 2001) as well as improve students' overall physical and mental health (Bell & Dyment, 2008; Coffey, 1996b; Dresner & Gill, 1994). …

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