Background

Classroom time on task (TOT) or student attention is positively associated with academic performance. Additionally, studies have shown a positive association between school-based physical activity (PA) and academic performance. Public health and health promotion interventions such as school gardening programs are becoming more common in elementary schools; however, few studies have examined the impact of school gardens on classroom TOT in youth populations.

Methods

Data were obtained from 350 low-income 3rd-5th grade students participating in TX Sprouts, a cluster-based school gardening, nutrition, and cooking randomized controlled trial. TOT was assessed through direct observations on garden days vs. non-garden days for two observation sessions per group. TOT observations taking place before the garden lesson were classified as pre-garden (PreG) and TOT observations taking place after the garden lesson were classified as post-garden (PostG). On-task behavior was defined as any verbal or physical behavior that followed the classroom rules or followed instructions given by the teacher.Off-task behavior was defined as any actions whereby a student was disengaged or distracted from the assigned task. Linear mixed modeling was used to determine the effect of TX Sprouts on TOT, controlling for age, sex, and race/ethnicity.

Results

Of the 350 students, sample demographics included: 60% female, 60% Hispanic with a mean age of 9.2 years.Preliminary findings showed a significant interaction effect of garden day on TOT with PreG and PostG (p < 0.01). On garden days, PostG TOT was approximately 15% higher than PreG TOT (p < 0.01). The PostG TOT scores were significantly higher on the garden day vs. non-garden day (p < 0.02).

Conclusions

Preliminary results showed increased TOT scores for students on garden days vs. non-garden days. These findings suggest that garden lessons could have a substantial and meaningful impact on student engagement which could lead to improved academic achievement.