Preparing for Spring by Celebrating School Gardens

Winter appears to have a firm grip throughout the country. Everyone is bundled up against the frigid winds. The trees are bare and the sky is grey and gloomy. Need a reminder that spring is not far away? Start planning your school garden.

The first school gardens appeared in the late 1800’s. Though school gardens have been planted for many years, they surged in popularity during World War I and World War II. Posters encouraging schools to enlist in the “school garden army” can be found throughout the Library of Congress collections.

Though interest in school gardens diminished after the end of World War II, the growth in environmental issues and natural foods helped bring about the return of school gardens.

Here are some suggestions to help you and your students think about gardening and learn more about school gardens with primary sources.

Divide students into groups and give each of them one of the posters on school and Victory Gardens. Ask them to use the analysis tool with their poster. After each group completes the analysis, students should identify the similarities and differences with each poster. Ask them why they think school gardens were so important in the past and why they think they are important now.

Give students the list of special collections for 1864 from a Boston nursery. Tell them they have a certain amount of money to spend to set up their garden and can’t go over. How would they spend their money? Ask students to access a current guide for a garden shop or garden-supply site. How far would their money go now?

Show students the editorial in support of school gardens from the March 27,1919, edition of The Citizen newspaper of Berea, Kentucky. (“To Parents: What is the School Garden Army?”). Why do the students think this editorial was aimed at parents? Do they agree or disagree with the points made in the editorial?

Gees Bend, Alabama. Marion Post Wolcott, 1939.

In a school garden in Gees Bend, Alabama. Marion Post Wolcott, 1939.

Looking for more information on school gardens? Watch Connie Carter of the Science Division of the Library of Congress as she talks about the history of school gardens. In addition, the Science Reading Room Staff has put together a guide to sources of information to supplement this webcast.

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