With National Children’s Gardening Week just around the corner, it offers the perfect opportunity to introduce some gardening activities into the classroom.
Gardening brings a whole host of learning opportunities around the core curriculum subjects of science, maths and literacy. Children can learn about the world and seasons around them while gaining a greater understanding of the journey their food takes before it reaches their plates. Gardening activities can also have a significant positive impact on your students physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
How does gardening benefit children’s wellbeing?
Getting outside and into nature gives children the opportunity to learn in a hands-on way, encouraging them to move their bodies and develop their gross and fine motor skills; for example digging, carefully separating tiny seeds and handling delicate seedlings. Gardening encourages the use of all five senses, with sight, sound, smell, touch and taste being regularly exercised, whilst sensory gardens offer a wider range of textures, visual contrasts, and fragrances. Growing vegetables offers the added benefit of the potential to expand young palettes – children are much more likely to be open to tasting foods that they have been involved in growing and nurturing themselves.
Growing plants – caring for the seeds, providing the correct growing conditions with the right balance of light and moisture, nurturing them before results are seen – requires exercising patience, resilience, persistence and commitment. Taking responsibility for helping the plant to grow, being trusted to care for it, and helping it to thrive brings feelings of pride and empowerment. Being in nature has a calming effect, and gardening has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve mood and enhance self esteem. Gardening actually makes you happy! Mycobacterium vaccae, which is found in soil, increases serotonin produced in the brain, which in turn helps to regulate anxiety.
As both a group activity, social skills are developed through team or partner work, and sharing, turn taking and respect will be required. Growing a garden offers the opportunity to advance self esteem and self motivation, and children who practise gardening at school have been shown to display increased empathy, both to the world around them and to their fellow students.
A study by Frontiers, where the behaviour of a group of 11-12 year old students was observed within the classroom and within the school garden, concluded that students showed more socially competent behaviour in school garden lessons than in classroom lessons.
How can I bring gardening into my setting?
Whilst growing a full garden can be a huge but immensely rewarding commitment, there are other ways to bring gardening activities to your setting. Gardening activities can begin inside, and if you are growing vegetables, you’ll enjoy the added benefit of being able to incorporate them into a snack time activity at a later date! Options with faster results can help to keep interest, especially for younger children.
It could be as simple as regrowing vegetables from scraps – celery, lettuce, and spring onions all regrow well and quickly when you place their bulb stem resting on top of a bowl of water.
Sunflowers, broad beans and peas are all grown from seeds and are easily germinated indoors. They can then either be sent home in cups of soil or planted into an area at school to watch them grow. Our emotional egg heads activity sheet offers another simple suggestion to start a simple gardening activity in the classroom.
Both tomatoes and strawberry plants are great fun to grow from a slice of the fruit itself – place a slice with plenty of seeds into some soil, place on a warm sunny windowsill and watch and wait for each seed to grow into a plant that could potentially produce dozens of new fruits! Both grow well in containers, or even hanging baskets, so are a great option when space is limited, and strawberries have the added benefit of coming back each year too.
If you’re able to dedicate time, space and budget for bigger projects, a vegetable patch or sensory garden are great places to start. Community requests for spare tools, outdoor clothing or seeds can prove useful for starting a gardening club or outdoor nurture space. Local garden centres, supermarkets or allotment associations are often keen to support schools in getting started.
The impact of nurturing activities like gardening can be huge for students’ social, emotional and mental wellbeing. One nurture teacher from the South-East of England recently took their nurture group to complete a two-day gardening project in a local primary school: “Every child I teach could exceed their flightpath, and that still wouldn’t come close to making me as proud as I was at the end of those two days. Each and every one flung themselves into it, working together as a team, taking turns, and supporting each other. I didn’t see a single phone or headphone all day, which with our lot is a genuine measure of success, until the end of the day when they took pictures to show their mums. There aren’t any words to adequately express how that made me feel.”
For more information on how you can bring nurturing activities and interventions into your setting, please visit our website.
- RHS Campaign for School Gardening
- Garden Organic school gardening resources
- Learning Through Landscapes outdoor learning ideas
- Groundwork funding opportunities
- Edina Trust funding opportunities