May 21, 2020 Chiara

5 Ways to Promote Student Engagement Using Gardening Challenges

If you teach primary school children, you likely know more than a few youngsters who are constantly fidgeting, eyes glued to the window. They’re the first to spring to action when you begin a game, perpetually prepared to sprint away down the hall the moment the bell rings. Now, confined to their homes, the number of students itching to do something, to connect with other students, to build something with their hands rather than spend another hour at their desk or on the couch is growing rapidly. Sure, some children are playing video games online, but six to twelve hours of that per day is neither beneficial nor healthy. Now is the time to think hard about how to boost student engagement and encourage active learning.

One popular way for children to learn from home is gardening! It’s hands-on and compatible with plenty of lesson plans, such as environmental science, sustainability, art and design. Another great thing about gardening is that your students will create projects they can document and share with your school community on social media. There’s a whole host of reasons why keeping your school engaged on social media is important right now, but the upshot is that your people are hungry for the sort of extracurricular connections that make a school special! 

The easiest way to combine gardening and social media is a photo/video challenge. The steps are simple: 

  1. Make sure your students have the necessary gardening tools and information
  2. Set a task 
  3. Create a hashtag or submissions inbox so they have somewhere to share their work once it’s finished 

Whether included as part of a class or as an extracurricular activity, gardening is certain to motivate even your most apathetic students to move and learn.   

    ‘Digging’ a bit more into the details, here are five ideas for engaging gardening challenges to get your students excited about plants. 

Seed Starters

This is a classic primary school science project that your students shouldn’t miss simply because they’re learning from home. All they need are seeds, a cotton ball or paper towel, and a small container. After dripping some water on the cotton or paper and placing the seeds on top, they can sprout within 24 hours depending on the variety. Then your little seedlings will be ready to transplant into soil.  

 

Since this activity is a fabulous accompaniment to lessons about the life cycle and parts of a plant, you could challenge your students to document growth stages. For the younger children, a series of photos taken with parental assistance would suffice and would be great for social media! The older students (ages 8-11) could easily up the level by making a short video using stop motion or time lapses, perhaps even with animations. Sounds a bit better than a TikTok dance, no? When your students are documenting their projects on social media, tagging your school in the posts, and sharing them with their friends, this will be incredibly valuable for your school’s social media. The key to social media success is organic content!

Floral Design

To teach project management and organisation you can ask students to take inspiration from gardens worldwide, or even temporary arrangements like the Brussels flower carpet, and design their own mini-plot. This can be customised to the size of whatever container they have at home. In addition to mapping out patterns and colour schemes, they’ll need to keep measurements in mind to space out their seeds correctly before planting. This kind of competition is great motivation for those students who love a good challenge!  

This project would work well with side-by-side photos showing the student’s initial sketch and their final flower garden—#plant-sformation tuesday? 

Composting

Less artistic but more practical, a composting challenge is a great way to encourage sustainable habits at home from a young age. It’s easier than you might imagine to make your own compost bin using leaves, kitchen scraps, and a bit of soil. Suggesting that families put their younger children in charge of decorating the bin and taking out food scraps is an opportunity to foster a sense of ecological responsibility that will serve them well down the line. 

This works best, not as a contest between students, but as a collective challenge to keep composting from a start date until the end of the school year. Students could easily share photos of their first and last days of composting. Children who discovered their green thumb through your first social contest can then mix this compost with soil for future projects. After seeing how their starter plant has developed over the year, they’ll be excited to plant again!

A more interesting and mindful approach would be to suggest that children briefly weigh food scraps on their kitchen scale before disposal and log those numbers in a spreadsheet on their fridge. At the end of the year, they will be able to share exactly how many pounds of food waste they saved. This could be a great school-wide project with some prizes for those who keep track!   

To reward your composting trainees, your school can celebrate their completion of the challenge with an enticing giveaway—of eco-friendly products, of course! Check out some of these potential prizes here.

Sensory Garden

A homeschooling favourite! Sensory gardens are a sure way to delight young children by encouraging them to grow as many plants as possible that stimulate the five senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste (better to be safe and consult your botany book for this last one; we don’t want any kids mistakenly eating those wild berries…). 

Once you’ve set this as a challenge, you can award the student whose container or plot incorporates the widest range of colours, textures, shapes and beyond. Ask them to make a short video tour to share on social media. If you want to boost the educational factor, you could also request that they limit their use of plants to species native to your area, encouraging them to learn more about the local growing climate. The soil is the limit here! These kinds of practical lessons are something school children may have never experienced in the traditional classroom. Take advantage of this opportunity while students are learning from home.

Farm to Table

It comes as no surprise that herb and vegetable gardens are favourites among beginner gardeners—who doesn’t love being able to eat a meal they grew themselves? If you want to encourage students to broaden their horizons on multiple accounts, you can combine gardening with a cooking challenge. 

Lettuce is easy to grow and can be done indoors, so one campaign would be to share photos of students creating colourful salads. Perhaps the twin thrills of competition and growing the food themselves will finally push them to eat the greens their parents have been hounding them to try for years! If not, you can count on the parents to clean up any home-grown leftovers. 

 

For a more flexible approach, you could ask students to create any dish they’d like, as long as the main ingredients come from their garden. Your social media will be filled with mouth-watering meal ideas in no time. 

We hope we’ve given you a better idea of the many benefits gardening holds for your students: time away from their screens, a chance to learn by doing, valuable life skills, and an opportunity to use social media constructively to engage with their school at large. It’s also an excellent way to motivate students who are kinesthetic learners and whose enthusiasm for online school may be waning. 

To help you start their journey in the garden, we are offering a series of items you can surprise your students with: gloves, trowels and even a complete gardening set. We also print your school’s logo on all our items so that they won’t forget who kick-started their career as a gardener…

Equally important to this project is a well-managed social media. For parents of younger students, participating in challenges like this is an opportunity to take pride in their child’s creativity, as well as encourage and be inspired by other children and parents at your school. An engaging social media is also excellent for your school’s credibility when prospective parents are deciding what school to send their children to. 

Your school can become the “cool school” kids want to attend! For pre-teens who may have their own accounts already, these contests are an opportunity to teach them to use social media well by taking breaks and sharing their creative endeavors rather than passively scrolling along. To help schools reap all the benefits of these online campaigns for student engagement, we offer a variety of services for schools. We’ve partnered with Mamma Marketing who are helping schools excel online and particularly on social media, where students (and parents) spend hours everyday!

Mamma Marketing helps schools on all different levels. From schools with little to no online presence to schools who already have a buzzing social media and a healthy online presence, they offer services for all. Take a look at the recommended services for a school below, as well as at our available gardening products, which can be customised to feature your school’s logo. 

Let’s see which kids have those green fingers!

Mamma Marketing