Shifting Gardens is an outdoor classroom planter garden system that empowers schools to build their own classroom gardens and transform their schoolyard! The system is composed of three raised planter garden shapes at three different heights to allow the possibility of creating a custom garden and outdoor classroom that meets the needs of students of all ages. Creating a Shifting Gardens is possible through the Shifting Gardens website, www.shiftinggardens.com, which allows free downloading of planning tools and building schematics, purchase links to easily accessible materials, instruction videos to help prepare untrained volunteers for building, and teaching resources to use with the classroom garden.
While serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer, creating large scale service events for
underfunded schools in Philadelphia, I noticed that many of the public urban schools
we worked to transform were surrounded by large, cracked, concrete
schoolyards. This stark reality seemed
difficult to address without huge grants to redesign the urban landscape. Because of this harsh reality, I then spent a
year designing Shifting Gardens as a way to realistically bring plantable green
space and outdoor learning to bare urban schoolyards.
I found that some schools had large raised planter beds for gardening
purposes. While the planters were
successful in proving plantable area on a concrete schoolyard, the structures
were low to the ground, meaning students had to squat to participate with
planting activities, and the traditional rectangular shapes were not
appropriate for large groups of students working in the garden together. The teachers and principals that I surveyed
agreed that outdoor seating and writing surfaces were greatly desired. In my previous experience, I saw how
organizations like City Year Greater Philadelphia, the nonprofit in which I
served as an AmeriCorps volunteer, had funds and the ability to manage large
amounts of volunteers but lacked the time and skill to create comprehensive,
detailed designs and schematics at a scale that would fully impact the lives of
Additionally,research showed that interacting with greenery has been proven to positively impact students’ behavior and academic achievement, strengthening the case for
making outdoor planter gardens a priority.
Not only does greenery improves the aesthetics and feel of the
schoolyard, but it also adds absorbent material (soil and roots) which help to
manage stormwater runoff.
Gardens is a system of raised planter beds and outdoor classroom furniture that
can address the needs of both schools and volunteers wanting to transform an
urban schoolyard, while ultimately serving the students and teachers who will
use it throughout the school year. The
system was designed to be built by volunteers with easily accessible materials
and provides detailed building plans for individuals new to construction. Shifting Gardens requires less funding and no
building permits, making schoolyard greenspaces available to a wider audience
than previously possible. Additionally, the garden can be built over time, with
planters being added as funding arrives.
The Shifting Gardens system is designed to be built across the country
and is made accessible through the Shifting Gardens’ website (www.shiftinggardens.com), which has purchase links for volunteers who are unfamiliar
with the suggested materials, links to the tools needed that can be rented at
select Home Depot locations, instructional videos for those new to building or
who might want a refresher, and access to a free downloadable PDF of the
Shifting Gardens planning and building guidebook. The guidebook walks the school or volunteers
through the process on planning the garden space and building the
structures. It’s student friendly with
hardware and material equations for students to help solve. While involving the students is important, the
instructions note when an adult should be present to manage tool use. Once the
planters are built, schools can visit the website to find links to resources which
their students can begin to use in order to create watering solutions, find
books about the plants they could grow, or learn other specifics about
the Shifting Gardens system is composed of three planters designed to meet the
needs of various group sizes while visually and physically working cohesively
in the garden layout. The Triangle
Planter is for small group learning, appropriate for groups of 6 students. The Chevron Planter is appropriate for a
group of 10 students, and the Universal Planter, appropriate for a group of 23
students, can accommodate a small to medium class and has a wheelchair
accessible planting area. The Triangle
and Chevron planters can be built at three different heights, as the planters
are built in layers. The lowest level, 2
layers, is 14 inches tall and comparable to a child size chair. The middle level is 3 layers at 21 inches tall
and is comparable to an adult size chair.
The highest level is 4 layers at 28 inches tall and is comparable to
desk height. With these heights and
group sizes in mind, the school can plan their custom outdoor classroom planter
garden that best meets the needs of their students and teaching practices.
seasons that are not favorable for planting, the Shifting Gardens will continue
to serve as furniture, such as benches for parents to sit while they wait for
dismissal or for groups of students to gather at recess.
After seeing a completed Shifting Gardens Planter and the building guidebook, the program manager of the Civic Engagement Team at City Year Greater Philadelphia said, "Love it. Wish I saw these schematics a couple weeks ago - could've tried building them next weekend!" While the principal of a local elementary school said, "This is exactly what we've been looking for!" Two of the planters were built on that elementary school's hard surfaced schoolyard by volunteers and are being used by the students this year.
Gardens provides the opportunity for schools to bring planting area to their
hard surfaced schoolyard while adding furniture to enhance outdoor learning. This system empowers schools to transform
their own space!
We all felt this deserved a nomination because all playgrounds need green space and this was a super simple, easy solution that anyone can do.