Extension Programs Utilize Plants for Education

From seed to bloom, plants provide many educational benefits

Kid watering plants

Have you ever considered how important plants can be for learning? Plants can be used in a variety of educational subjects – from math to history to science and more. Not only are plants a nexus point for different disciplines within education, but when people can work directly with materials like plants, it leaves an impact. As Master Gardener Program Manager Ruth Smith says, “There is nothing you can’t teach in a garden.” 

UNH Extension offers many programs that use plants for K-12 education and lifelong learning. 

Wild World of Plants  

Extension Professor and State Specialist Lara Gengarelly developed the Wild World of Plants project for elementary age students, which can be taught in formal or non-formal environments. Volunteer 4-H STEM Docents are also available to help implement the program in classrooms. Wild World of Plants is intended to help students understand the life cycle and investigate the basic needs of plants. In alignment with reformed-minded approaches to science teaching, it is inquiry-based, meaning that it’s student-centered and based on real world connections to plants. “Plant biology provides wonderful opportunities to engage learners in carrying out science. It is important for them to think about the natural world as a place they can discover,” says Gengarelly. 

Hydroponics and Aquaponics   

Like Gengarelly, Jonathan Ebba also sees the benefits of plant education. As a landscape and greenhouse assistant field specialist, he has worked on projects over the years with plant education in schools. “Topics like hydroponics and aquaponics really benefit schools,” says Ebba. “They can be integrated across a bunch of different disciplines.” For example, a teacher can use a hydroponics set up or an aquaponics set up to teach nutrient cycling in biology, or to teach mathematics, or even chemistry. Ebba likes to collaborate across the facilities – so the math teacher should be coordinating with the science teachers, and so on and so forth.  

Master Gardening  

Master Gardener volunteers receive training to become better gardeners so they can then go out into the community and help where the needs are, which includes instruction and service at schools and community gardens. Master Gardeners provide expertise that teachers may not have in gardening and can help teachers integrate garden lessons into their curriculums.  

4-H Agriscience 

4-H has many different pathways for youth to explore and one of those pathways is in agriscience. 4-H programs teach youth life skills through project work, which can include planting an urban garden or designing a greenscape. The goals of agriscience projects, like creating greenscapes, focus on practices that encourage healthy plant growth and getting experience with the content. Assistant 4-H Youth Field Specialist Michele Bersaw says, “I see a ton of benefits on multiple levels when youth engage in the outdoor world. Not only do they get the opportunity to connect with their natural environment, but they also have ownership over what they’re doing and learning.” 

Plant a Row  

Plant a Row is a joint effort between UNH Extension’s Health and Well-Being and 4-H. The goal of Plant a Row is to raise awareness of food insecurity and provide access to nutritious foods and education through the Strafford and Rockingham communities. “Plant a Row is meant to encourage everyone in their community to plant an extra row, and then give the produce to either themselves to supplement their own household or to share with neighbor or to donate to participating food pantries,” says Assistant Extension 4-H Program Manager Caitlin Wollack.  

Throughout the year, these pantries accept all kinds of food donations; that means they are willing to accept anything from a single tomato to several bags of apples. The program teaches people about nutrition education through gardening. Wollack says, “If youth have grown the food themselves, they are more inclined to try new fruits and vegetables. It really sparks an enthusiasm.”  

UNH Extension has many different program areas that involve plants and education that are beneficial for youth and communities. Join us! 

Interested in learning more about gardening? Sign up for Granite State Gardening

Author(s)

Stephanie Ropes
Office: UNH Cooperative Extension Administration, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824
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