We often hear of school gardening projects implemented as a way to augment classroom learning using hands-on experience in real world situations. Gardens enliven the education process and get kids outdoors and in touch with nature, but in a modern world of limitless TV, online games and movies, this is a way to provide needed physical activity for children as well.
Attracting birds and butterflies is always a popular idea with kids, and wildlife gardens serve as backdrops for natural history and science lessons too. If children are allowed to research the animals they hope to attract before planting, they can come up with plant suggestions on their own rather than relying on a static list. Encourage them to think of entire life cycles and to grow plants that contribute to every phase of butterfly development--adult egg laying, larval development, pupae stage and back to adult so that the insects remain in the garden for easy natural study. They may want to construct artificial habitats such as bee and butterfly houses--even birdhouses if there is room--or, if space and budget allow, they can build and plant a small wildlife pond to encourage amphibians and water loving insects like dragonflies. For free bee, bat and other wildlife housing plans and loads of wildlife habitat information, visit Scott's Backyard Habitat Enhancement Homepage.
Junior Victory Garden
Incorporate a history lesson and explain to the kids how their ancestors grew "victory" gardens during World War II to feed themselves and to save resources to support the soldiers fighting in the war. Have them study real garden plans from the 1930s and 40s and try to reproduce the varieties that were planted then. Sources for old varieties or heirloom seeds are found online--Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com), Seeds of Change (seedsofchange.com) and Johnny's Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) among others.
Each class or grade level--depending upon space available for gardens--chooses a theme for their garden. Let them vote among several theme ideas such as an all red (or blue, yellow, white, etc.) flower garden; a butterfly garden; texture garden (with lamb's ear, mullein, prickly lettuce, roses or other plants with soft, prickly, rough barked or other textured leaves, stems and so forth); a soup garden (with all the vegetables they like in soup); alphabet garden (plants for each letter) or other themes to be decided by the kids.
Square Foot Garden
Lay out the garden with each child having exactly 1 square foot of space to call their own. Within that space, allow every child to plant and care for the vegetable or flower of his choice. Encourage out-of-the-box thinking, so that kids who want to grow peas, beans, squash, melons or other climbers can make their own trellis or bean poles in their square (although taller plants should be allocated to northern squares to prevent shading the shorter varieties). This gardening method was first proposed by a man named Mel Bartholomew, who wrote the book "The Square Foot Garden," but you do not have to buy the book to learn more about it. Check it out from your local library or read about it online.