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Ready, Set, Grow: School garden initiatives boost students’ health

img_02551by Julia Hawes [1]and Maya Linson [2]

Local leaders have quietly been examining the use of school gardens to help nuture the minds and bodies of Chicago children.

The new initiative, spearheaded by Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Office, aims to place working gardens in all city public schools by 2018.

Over half of all public schools in the city – more than 300 total – already have gardens, according to Suzanne Carlson, the environmental program manager for Chicago Public Schools. The 10-year working plan, outlined by the Growing School Gardens Collaborative, would expand that number to almost 500 outdoor learning landscapes, she said.


Andrea Faber Taylor, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, worked with Kuo on studies examining the benefits of physical environments on human psychology, particularly in children.

Faber Taylor looked at Chicago public housing and found there were measurable differences between residents living in communities with greenery and in those without.

In particular, girls living in public housing with a “green view” had better concentration, improved academic performance and were more likely to seek long-term success instead of instant gratification, according to Faber Taylor.

When children had immediate access to green space, they were more likely to engage in creative play, which research suggests is “developmentally important activity,” Faber Taylor said.

Kuo is currently examining how school green space can improve children’s learning and academic achievement, in light of the general fatigue that accompanies the school day, Faber Taylor said.

“(Growing School Gardens) should – in theory – be supportive of their capacity to concentrate, if they have access to (nature) in their school,” Faber Taylor said. “It should potentially be restorative. When we use our directive attention, it fatigues the brain.”