Blog post written by: Mike Edmondstone, Schools Communications Officer for the Edible Playgrounds programme from charity Trees for Cities.
At the risk of hubris, I think it’s safe to say most readers of this blog are already well versed in the benefits of teaching food growing in schools. In case anyone is unsure, there is a whole raft of evidence to show how it benefits curriculum delivery, attitudes to healthy eating, care for the environment and increase in health and wellbeing. There is even a compelling argument that it boosts employability.
I’m not going to talk about the benefits of food growing: multiple resources already do that in rich detail . What I can add to the conversation is about best practice of delivering food growing programmes in schools, and how they can be made sustainable. Edible Playgrounds from Trees for Cities has now delivered over 100 projects over the last 10 years and we are therefore in a unique position to offer some insights into our experience.
After speaking with multiple teachers from historic projects that span the past decade, there are various themes that have emerged.
Timetabling slots for each class
Firstly, timetabling slots for each of the classes into the garden is essential. The garden has to be included in the teaching day, rather than just used in playtime or as an after school gardening club. Time and again we have heard feedback from teachers who say that children are calmer, more engaged and all-round better behaved when they are learning in the garden. So why wouldn’t you ensure each of the classes gets regular time outside?
What we’ve found when slots aren’t timetabled is that the gardens tend to run to seed. Gardens need to be nurtured, or crops aren’t harvested, weeds take over and soon enough your once tidy space is overrun with unwanted foliage that can be challenging to tame. Little and often is preferable to big work done in fits and starts.
For staff who need a little inspiration into how they can incorporate the curriculum into their food growing work, Trees for Cities have released some free resources, including lesson plans, curriculum guides and how to guides. Take a look at them here.
Choose an outdoor learning champion
Another point that headteachers mention is to choose a teacher to act as outdoor learning champion. Roles and responsibilities should be written into their job description to ensure the garden’s longevity. Enthusiastic, proactive teachers might otherwise shoulder the responsibility short term, leaving a void when they decide to move on from the school. It’s crucial that responsibility for the garden transcends staff changes.
Some of the most successful schools have gone one step further and developed outdoor learning champions from a number of different teams within the school: one each from the SLT, class teachers, teaching assistants, pupils, parents and governors. Occasionally schools even stipulate that every member of staff should have some involvement. This may sound daunting and unrealistic to some, but in reality it can mean just an extra 10 minutes work a week for each. Their enthusiasm for outdoor learning can be both infectious and inspiring and can really galvanise the school to get behind a food growing project. For the children, it can mean empowerment and richer social and emotional learning, giving rise to increased environmental leadership.
Include in the school development plan
Equally, to ensure the sustainability of the programme, it should be included as part of the school development plan. Some go so far as to include the garden as part of the staff wellbeing programme, tying it fully into the working environment.
Finally, if your school is planning to start a food growing programme, it is really important to communicate it to the wider school community before you start. Make sure the parents and governors know what the plans are. Communication means you will have a higher chance of finding support that will help increase your chances of success.
The old adage of ‘you get out when you put in’ is especially clear with gardening. Having people pottering about with no real structure will mean weeds soon start to take hold. But build a framework that allows people time to weed, plant, water and teach in the space, and your garden will thrive as an outdoor learning resource.
About the Author
Mike Edmondstone is the Schools Communications Officer for the Edible Playgrounds programme from charity Trees for Cities. Based in London’s Kennington Park, he promotes Edible Playgrounds to schools and coordinates enquiries at a national, regional and local level.
The Edible Playgrounds programme transforms school grounds into vibrant outdoor teaching gardens that inspire learning and get children excited about growing and eating healthy food. It is now in its ninth year and has to date completed projects in more than 80 primary and secondary schools across the country.
Thanks to Trees for Cities’ corporate partners Bulb, there is currently generous funding available to cover the majority of the programme cost. Get in touch via the website, email, Twitter, or phone 020 7587 1320.