The lives of children could be radically improved by teaching them horticultural skills and encouraging them to get active in the garden.

That’s the conclusion of a study commissioned by leading gardening charity The Royal Horticultural Society – and with the subject to be potentially included in the National Curriculum from September 2014, it looks like the next generation might leave school with the skills to tend a garden and grow their own vegetables.

If approved, the revised National Curriculum will see all pupils between the ages of five and 14 taught how to “cultivate plants for practical purposes, such as food or displays”, as well as how to plan and prepare healthy and wholesome meals.

Leading gardening organisations back horticulture in schools

Garden Organic has been helping schools with gardening and food growing for over 20 years, currently working with over 9,000 schools nationwide. In 2011 they were chosen to lead the government-backed Food Growing in Schools Taskforce, which brought together over 25 organisations involved with food growing. Garden Organic’s Mark McLachlan explained the Taskforce’s discoveries to Wilko Life:

“One of the key findings was evidence that teaching gardening and food growing as part of the curriculum raised attainment and standards, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths,” he said.

“Our evidence shows that food growing in schools encourages learning, builds life skills, improves awareness and understanding of the natural environment, promotes health and well-being particularly in relation to diet and nutrition, supports school development and strengthens communities through volunteering.”

Child digging

The perfect environment for young minds to develop

In 2007 the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) launched a Campaign for School Gardening, to which 17,000 schools and educational institutions have signed up.

“Our research shows the huge range of benefits that gardening has on a child’s wellbeing and development,” said Sarah Cathcart, Head of Education and Learning at the RHS.

“It helps them live happier, healthier lives, improves diet, enhances their understanding of where fresh produce comes from and improves academic achievement. A garden is always evolving, so it’s the perfect environment for young minds to develop.”

Kids benefit from “the 3 Rs” of school gardening

A study commissioned by the RHS and conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) surveyed 1300 teachers and studied a variety of different types of school, ranging from a small Yorkshire village school to a large primary in urban London.

The research identified the “3 Rs of school gardening” – three core areas in which horticulture improves children’s wellbeing, learning and overall development by helping them become “Ready to learn, Resilient, and Responsible”.

Child spraying water from hosepipe

Ready to learn

The NFER found that the practical and hands-on nature of gardening helps children become more flexible and better thinkers. Using school gardens to bring dry and academic subjects to life by transforming them into real world experiences, helps inspire an active and inquisitive approach to learning.

Such an approach can help kids achieve their goals in a wide range of subjects, both in and out of the classroom. The changeable nature of gardening also compels kids to become more flexible in their thinking, helping them to be able to quickly think of solutions to new problems.

Resilient

The study showed that gardening helps improve a child’s sense of self-worth. Less confident pupils are able to learn outside of the pressurised environment of the classroom, with the range of skills required in the garden serving as an academic “leveller“. In addition to boosting self-esteem, setbacks in the garden and kids’ efforts to overcome such challenges, fosters resilience in the face of life’s problems.

Responsible

Gardening helps kids take greater control of their own wellbeing and behaviour. Growing crops encourages children to try new vegetables and embrace a healthier diet, whilst physical tasks such as digging and weeding helps keep kids active and fitter. Being trusted to use potentially dangerous garden chemicals and tools teaches children the importance of taking responsibility for their own safety.

Social skills improve because kids often have to mix with a variety of different people when working on garden projects. Gardening also forges links between pupils and the wider community – some schools have worked with local pensioners’ clubs for example, swapping vegetables grown at school for older gardeners’ knowledge.

Sunflower

There has been some criticism of the proposed curriculum

Whilst the draft version of the National Curriculum has been broadly welcomed, not everyone approves of the proposed changes.

The chairman of BAE Systems, one of the UK’s biggest companies, told a conference of educators that “something had gone very wrong” when the design and technology curriculum was being drafted. Dick Olver claimed that it does not meet the needs of a technologically literate society. “Instead of introducing children to new design techniques…we now have a focus on cookery,” he said. “Instead of developing skills in computer-aided design, we have the introduction of horticulture. Instead of electronics and control, we have an emphasis on basic mechanical maintenance tasks.”

Mark McLachlan says that while Garden Organic empathise with business leaders worried about schools failing to teach the best technology, innovation and design, they argue strongly that this can be done through gardening.
“Gardening and horticulture makes best use of design and technology,” he explained. “Think of cutting edge soil science and plant breeding. Think the landscape design that went into the stunning Olympic park. And think what a robotic slug machine could do to save the UK horticultural industry millions of pounds and reduce use of pesticides!”

Wilko’s helping to get your kids into gardening

The NFER’s research certainly makes a compelling argument for the introduction of gardening to schools – and as summer approaches, now’s the perfect time to encourage your kids to head outdoors and start gardening.

Wilko’s is very keen to help parents spark their kids’ interest and encourage them to swap smartphones for seed trays. We sell packs of seeds and activity kits designed especially to excite kids’ curiosity about gardening, as well as a wide range of gardening tools and equipment, and we look forward to welcoming you in the garden section of your local Wilko’s store!

Related links:

Garden Organicfor Schools

Royal Horticultural Society campaign for gardening in schools

Draft National Curriculum study programmes

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