My experiences as a Head Teacher at a primary school and a mother of two young children has led me to firmly believe that gardening is an essential way to pull kids away from their device screens to get them outdoors and into nature.
“As a mother, gardening has given purpose and meaning to invaluable family time”
I’ve also witnessed first-hand that transformational nurturing effect gardening can have on children who find the classroom environment challenging. As a mother, gardening has given purpose and meaning to invaluable family time. What child doesn’t like seeing something that they’ve nurtured grow? My sons cannot wait to check out how their blueberries have ripened in their Grandparent’s garden and want to know why we cannot grow bread from the seeds in our supermarket loaf!
At our school, we have sprawling grounds and are committed to outdoor learning, so 2 years ago, we set about creating an area where we could run a gardening club. Our aim was to encourage our pupils to get outside and learn about where their food comes from. We also wanted to create a space where kids could work together and learn the art of gardening. I’ll be honest with you, I know very little about gardening so to get the club off the ground we relied on Dave our wonderful gardener, and venerable gentleman and Anne, our ‘Green Queen’, a teacher mad enough and passionate enough about sustainability and the outdoors to take on this project in her ‘spare time’!
“Grabbing time from a pack curriculum is a huge challenge…gardening and the outdoors should be high priority”
Grabbing time from a packed curriculum is a huge challenge. Although gardening and the outdoors should be high priority in the development of our future generations, pressure to achieve test results; the Ofsted regime and relentless changes to what children need to be able to do mean that taking children out of class time is tricky. However, Anne is very persuasive and she managed to convince teachers to let a small group of children out of class to join the gardening gang. They used resources from a scheme run by one of the national supermarkets to gain tools and together Dave, Anne and the gardening Gang made a little bit of magic in the centre of our school.
“Garden Club has inspired children who have found academic learning challenging”
I’m really pleased to say that 2 years on, Gardening Club has gone from strength the strength and has had some surprising benefits to a wide group of children and other adults who have become involved. Firstly, Garden Club has inspired children who have found academic learning challenging to engage with school. I clearly remember in the first year of the club seeing one child, who spent most of his ‘learning’ time in my office, focused and determined to put together a plastic greenhouse which had just arrived. The concentration and perseverance which he demonstrated that day was something we saw very seldom from him in the classroom. The effect on his self-esteem and his reputation cannot be overestimated. Secondly, by growing their own food children gained a much greater appreciation where their food comes from and an awareness of healthier food options – rhubarb was no longer alien to them! Finally, Gardening Club has brought together children from across the school and given them the opportunity to work together as a team towards a common goal and share their experiences. In the 21st Century job market, these skills and attributes will be invaluable.
Watching the project develop has made me more committed than ever to ensuring that gardening, sustainability and the love of the outdoors is high in the priorities of our school – long may there be filthy wellington boots around the corner in our school.