School gardens were used in parts of Europe as early as 1811, and mention of their value precedes that by nearly two centuries. Philosophers and educational reformers such as John Amos Comenius and Jean-Jacques Rousseau discussed the importance of nature in the education of children; Comenius mentioned gardens specifically. The use and purpose of school gardens was multifold; gardens provided a place where youth could learn natural sciences (including agriculture) and also acquire vocational skills. Indeed, the very multiplicity of uses and purposes for gardens made it difficult for gardening proponents to firmly anchor gardening in the educational framework and a school’s curriculum; it still does.
School gardens have been around for a long time, and their history matters today. The founder of the kindergarten movement, Friedrich Froebel, used gardens as an educational tool. Froebel was influenced by Swiss educational reformer Johann Pestalozzi, who saw a need for balance in education, a balance that incorporated “hands, heart, and head,” words and ideas that would be incorporated nearly two centuries later into the mission of the United States Department of Agriculture’s 4-H youth development program. Gardens required all three of these things; for this and other reasons, Froebel advocated for school gardens during the course of his life.
Late 19th century educators such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey built upon educational theories espoused by these earlier philosophers and reformers and extended them. Both Montessori and Dewey spoke specifically about gardening and agricultural education for youth. They both saw the acquisition of practical (i.e., vocational) skills as only part of the value of gardening experiences.
In both World War I and II, the United States also sought to encourage youth to express their love of country and commitment […]