The overarching aim behind developing the school garden was to create a natural, sustainable resource that has the capacity to offer curricular, social and emotional benefits to our pupils. Our intention was to turn the outdoor space into a living, breathing learning resource packed with adventure and wonder. Therefore, gardening is fully embedded in our curriculum and supports the intent of our curriculum and our vision.
We recognise that both EYFS and KS1 National Curriculum for Science are very much linked to the outdoor learning and therefore it is imperative that pupils acquire new skills and knowledge through active engagement in practical and meaningful activities in the garden.
Our garden provides opportunities to deliver the program of study ‘Snap Science’ which we have adapted for our school. The modules ‘Our changing world’ and ‘The apprentice gardener’ offer pupils regular opportunities to explore all aspects of their outdoor environment and build up a rich understanding of how it changes over the year.
Gardening is fully integrated into our curriculum. Our gardening lessons are well planned and embedded into our weekly timetables. Through garden-related activities, pupils can demonstrate an understanding of scientific concepts (such as taxonomy), scientific methods (including devising experiments), scientific knowledge (including habitats and life-cycles) and appropriate scientific language. Observing the growth of plants encourages pupils ask more questions and to have the confidence to experiment.
Teachers use a range of strategies which involve children moving about, touching, feeling, exploring and observing for themselves. This type of work ‘brings learning alive’ in a way that pupils clearly enjoy and therefore we recognise a clear link between children’s enjoyment in working in the garden and their capacity to achieve.
We teach pupils to understand how they can contribute to a diversity of wildlife in the area. We do so by creating wildlife habitats such as ‘minibeast hotels’ and a pond but also by growing types of flowers and plants that encourage butterflies, bees and birds. Similarly, growing their own produce has raised awareness of sustainability issues related to food. While the use of bins to produce compost for the garden has given pupils an opportunity to understand how recycling works in practice. Pupils learn increased awareness of the seasons and understanding of food production.
Our garden provides also grounds for mathematical thinking for our pupils. Teachers can cover many aspects of Maths, from simple exercises in measurement, counting and sequencing to more complex skills such as estimation and use of graphs. The garden can therefore be seen to provide an arena for a deeper learning experience than in the classroom. Part of it is related to being given the opportunity to be participants in decision-making and becoming independent learners.
Through gardening we teach a variety of skills that make a major contribution to young people’s lives. The outdoor space is a particularly appropriate place in which pupils can gain new physical skills and to learn about healthy eating and sustainable living. The new skills that children learn in the garden are related not only to the physical tasks such as digging, weeding and hoeing, but also to developing the fine motor skills needed for such tasks as transplanting tiny seedlings and weeding throughout the seasons.
There is a clear link between working in the garden and promoting healthy choices and behaviours. Through initiatives such as ‘Vegetable of the week’ and taking fresh vegetables home, we encourage pupils to experiment with new vegetables such as spinach, courgettes and chard. We believe that because of their involvement in growing the plants, there will be a behavioural change in their willingness to try new tastes and their attitude to healthy food choices.
We encourage making new connections with the local community by inviting families to join in the gardening weekends, selling plants from the school grounds and sending fresh vegetables for all parents and carers to try at home.
We have observed a clear link between the gardening and children’s learning outcomes including greater scientific knowledge and understanding, enhanced literacy and numeracy skills and the use of a wider vocabulary across all areas of the curriculum. Some of this learning appears to be linked specifically to gardening and the garden, while other learning relates more to being outdoors and being able to engage in physical activities that are not possible in the confines of the classroom.
We recognise how the act of growing and caring for plants has many benefits for wellbeing, as well as the environment. Gardening contributes to our learning behaviours and emotional well-being of our pupils. Pupils learn a sense of responsibility when working in the garden both in terms of protecting the garden environment from damage and in monitoring and taking responsibility for their own behaviour. The school garden encourages informal relationships between younger and older pupils as we all have an important part to play. It gives a sense of working in a team and promoting the whole school community working towards a common goal.
Some children learn to overcome their fear of touching worms or beetles, others discover the virtue of patience as they wait for crops to be harvested; others simply enjoy being outside and watching things grow. Gardening gives children new opportunities for social interaction that widens their experience and raises their confidence.
We use the garden to promote the development of active citizens as well as independent learners. The garden helps our pupils to make a positive contribution and promote active citizenship by designing their vegetable patches and growing food for the kitchen. Pupils are more able to contribute through the garden to the school and wider community. They feel proud of the work they have done in the garden and this contributes to improvement in pupils’ self-esteem, particularly for those who lack confidence and self belief.
Our school garden has gone from strength to strength this year. Despite some delays in autumn we have got a new large flower bed that we planted rather late in the year with bulbs and perennials. Year 1 pupils were in charge of the flowers, adding annuals in spring and sunflowers in summer. The children sowed and raised all the plants. Each class also designed their own raised bed using field crops like flax, spelt or amaranth and field wildflowers. The vibrant flower beds were enjoyed throughout the summer by the whole school community.
The Year 2 pupils were growing all the vegetables in the garden. In contrast to last year, each child was in charge of his/her own little patch of land, marked with their name. They sowed at least three different vegetables directly into the beds and tended their beds throughout the year. Later they planted tomatoes and other seedlings. A particular emphasis in the hot summer was learning to save water by mulching and water wisely. The harvest is still going strong!
We use the garden produce in our meals at school which is an important outcome of our gardening efforts. Because of limited facilities we can only prepare simple meals. The Reception classes prepared kale and made kale crisps. From the potatoes they planted and harvested the children enjoyed chips cooked on the barbeque.
The Year 2 classes used chard to make chard puff pastries and Year 1 classes included vegetable and lettuce leaves in the smoothies they prepared in the garden. The children also enjoyed taster sessions and realised that interesting we can be influenced by other senses, like sight and smell, when we choose and taste different foods.
Our pupils learn about vegetables through our ‘Vegetable of the Week’ event. We mostly choose vegetables from the garden that are in season, and pupils are encouraged to eat them for lunch. Simple recipes are available for parents and their children to cook those vegetables at home. Occasionally these vegetables are sold by the pupils on a school stall.