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How a school garden has transformed the way we teach

Oct 1, 2017 by

From finding fresh ways to engage children in maths to improving behaviour, we’ve put a garden at the heart of learning

Tim Baker –

It was in 2004 that I decided to install a garden at Charlton Manor Primary School. I’d just taken up the role of headteacher, and there was some derelict land on the school site. I’d seen the news reports about children lacking knowledge of where their food came from and felt that we as a society had become very detached about food. The reason for this was clear to me: we were no longer educating our children about food in schools.

So I saw a garden as an opportunity for the children to learn in a real way, in an outdoor context, while also instilling an understanding of where their food came from and the importance of eating fruit and vegetables. But I also wanted to use it to cover other topics: life cycles, flowering plants, pollination, adaptation, creative writing and report writing. I believed that plenty of subjects could be well taught in a garden, while increasing pupils’ activity levels and encouraging teamwork.

There was a behavioural element, too. With many teachers facing comments from children such as “It wasn’t my fault” and “It wasn’t only me”, here was our chance to develop a sense of responsibility. We took the pupils out to local gardens and allotments to give them inspiration for what they might want from a school garden, and asked them to play a practical role. From this, their ideas included areas to grow fruit and vegetables, a wildlife pond complete with bridge for viewing, a hide to observe wildlife and a greenhouse set within a maze so that the garden didn’t reveal all of its secrets straight away.

Children work as a team in the garden, taking responsibility for nurturing the plants.
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Children work as a team in the garden, taking responsibility for nurturing the plants. Photograph: Charlton Manor Primary School

Four years on, gardening has become a central part of the curriculum. A recent creative writing task on buried treasure took on a whole new meaning with the garden as the backdrop, as pupils used the sights and sounds as inspiration. In maths measurement classes, children have mapped out flower beds rather than relying on small-scale drawings in textbooks. We’ve produced charts and graphs by measuring sprouting sunflowers, and recorded weather information from the weather station and charted its effects.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. At the beginning, we struggled to get some of the staff on board, due to concerns that behavioural issues would worsen – because if they couldn’t trust the children in the classroom, wouldn’t they be worse outside? But once those teachers started making use of the garden there was recognisable behaviour change in those pupils. The children worked as a team, were engaged in their tasks, and took responsibility for nurturing the plants.

Source: How a school garden has transformed the way we teach | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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