The concept of school gardens is not new. They were used in parts of Europe as early as the 19th century and the first recorded school garden in the United States was established in 1891 in Massachusetts (Bucklin-Sporer and Pringle, 2010). Over the last 20 years, school gardening has become a growing movement nationwide in the United States (Blair, 2009). As the popularity of school gardening has grown, the amount of research examining the benefits of gardening activities for children has also increased. Some of the benefits identified from these studies include increasing children’s life skills such as gaining self-esteem (Alexander et al., 1995; Montessori, 1912; Sarver, 1985) and self-understanding (Robinson and Zajicek, 2005), giving children pleasant experiences (Alexander et al., 1995; Schimmel, 2004; Waliczek et al., 2001), improving interactions with other people (Alexander et al., 1995; Canaris, 1995; Dirks and Orvis, 2005; Laaksoharju et al., 2012), increasing children’s knowledge of the environment (Canaris, 1995; Dirks and Orvis, 2005; Kahtz, 1995), giving children insight into healthy eating and nutrition (Canaris, 1995; Koch et al., 2005; Morris and Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002), increasing children’s willingness to eat vegetables (Langellotto and Gupta, 2012; Lineberger and Zajicek, 2000), and increasing connection to nature (Canaris, 1995; Waliczek et al., 2001).
While the school gardening movement has been popular for many years around the world, it has only recently taken hold in Taiwan. Furthermore, the opportunities for children to be in contact with nature and experience gardening activities in Taiwan may be fewer in comparison with children in Europe or North America. This is because most people in Taiwan live in apartment buildings within cities (Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, Executive Yuan, 1995). In contrast to the suburban model of habitation found in North America, in Taiwan there are very few single-family homes with yards; so many Taiwanese children have few opportunities to engage with gardening because of limited space in their residences. Since the emphasis on academic work is significant and with school occupying much of their day, students in Taiwan do not have much free time to spend outdoors. About half of the students in Taiwan spend even more time attending after-school tutoring centers, commonly known as “cram schools” (Wei, 2011).
The situation is changing in Taiwan. In the past few years, a few elementary schools have started to develop gardening activities in school. One purpose of this study was to see how gardening could positively influence the children in Taiwan. For comparison, research has found that children in North America enjoyed gardening programs and wanted to participate in more gardening type activities (Dirks and Orvis, 2005). For this study, the researchers also wanted to explore whether children in Taiwan would have the same affinity for gardening.
While there is a large body of research assessing the benefits that gardening activities provide for children, there are very few studies examining which factors influence these benefits. Currently, only a small number of these factors have been identified from interview records in a limited number of qualitative studies. Alexander et al. (1995) found from their interviews that enjoyable experiences came from tangible outcomes and from interacting with others during activities. Understanding influencing factors is very important in helping to identify the unique features that distinguish gardening activities from other types of experience-based activities. In addition, when designing gardening activities and establishing objectives, appropriate factors of influence can be selected, which in turn can increase the effectiveness of programming these activities for children.
The majority of studies have used traditional quantitative research methodologies to assess the effects of gardening activities. However, advocates of qualitative methods argue that the results of quantitative analysis are not always meaningful when they are transferred to a natural environment (Waliczek et al., 2003). Blair’s (2009) review of the literature on school gardening points out that qualitative studies produce a wider range of findings. Therefore, this study uses a general inductive approach, which can be easily applied and has a systematic set of procedures for analyzing qualitative data (Thomas, 2006) to gain insight into the benefits of school gardening for children in Taiwan and to further identify factors influencing these benefits. By choosing qualitative research methods, this study was able to probe deeply into the rich answers given by participants.
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