As educators know, teaching is easiest and most effective when learning feels like play. Some lessons, like grammar, may be harder to turn into games, but other lessons can easily become adventures as long as teachers have access to fun, hands-on learning tools. One such tool is JP’s Peace, Love and Happiness Foundation Teaching Garden, made possible by philanthropist and Austinite John Paul DeJoria of Paul Mitchell salons and Patrón tequila fame.
Located in East Austin at the Sustainable Food Center and tucked into a larger community garden, the Teaching Garden is a thriving, organic food haven that also serves as an outdoor classroom. Each year, the garden hosts hundreds of children through school field trips where visiting students can learn about a wide variety of subjects and develop social, academic and artistic skills through self-management, cooperation, communication and decision-making. There are also opportunities to learn important math skills and practice scientific inquiry, data analysis, writing, crafting and drawing.
Students harvest from garden beds, smell and taste herbs, venture through the garden in search of various plant parts, observe bees and butterflies pollinating flowers, stumble upon frogs and lizards, and discover other wildlife such as colorful caterpillars and elegant lacewings. They also plant seedlings in pots to take home. In the process, they learn about plant anatomy, food production, life cycles, pollination, water conservation and a range of other environmental topics. They might be asked to count flower petals or identify different shapes, or lounge beneath a tree and sketch or write about the garden. These activities are simple, but because they involve exploration, discovery and play, they generate enthusiasm about the learning process.
Like all outdoor classrooms, the Teaching Garden also offers children a number of health benefits. Increasingly, studies show that the microfauna present in soil boosts humans’ immune systems. This fauna has a particularly powerful impact on the immune systems of children and infants. Students also exercise both their minds and bodies—breathing the garden’s fresh air and receiving a healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun, and gardening supports mental health by relieving anxiety, stress and depression. Last but not least, studies show that children who grow food are more likely to enjoy eating healthy food, so the health benefits of a trip to the Teaching Garden can last a lifetime.
By Katie Pace
Sustainable Food Center’s Teaching Garden hosts field trips for children in pre-K through 12th grade. If you’d like to schedule a field trip to the garden, visit sustainablefoodcenter.org