Teaching Children To Catch The Gardening Bug

By Andy McIndoe

Learning About Plants & Gardening Must Start In Schools. 

Attracting young people into the world of horticulture and gardening has been a hot topic in the past few years. Gardening is seen as a last resort by many when it comes to choosing a job. In schools it is often seen as an option for the less academically gifted.

Both situations are the result of ignorance: a total lack of knowledge of the opportunities, the incredible job satisfaction and the sheer inspiration of the world of plants. It seems today that few children are introduced to gardening; often their parents don’t garden and grow their own food as they did a generation or two ago.

Many schools neglect to teach anything about plants and gardening in the early years. The result: many children haven’t got a clue where their food comes from, the importance of bees and insects and they don’t ever experience the sheer joy of watching something grow.

2 Wicor Primary School (1280x853)

I must admit to having a rather jaded view of the attitude to plants and gardening in schools in recent years. That is until I visited a primary school, at Wicor on the south coast of England, not far from Portsmouth.

It’s a magical space with brilliantly utilised grounds that really teach kids about growing, harvesting and eating. They learn about the relationship between crops and insects, beneficial and otherwise. The timescale involved in growing crops, and they get to sample and cook the results.

This is not a school where you watch a broad bean grow in a jam-jar lined with blotting paper. Here children get their hands dirty, help with the growing and learn about various garden environments.

They grow a wide range of interesting crops so they know what a chilli and a globe artichoke looks like, as well as a potato and a carrot. Here horticulture is as it should be: part of the National Curriculum.

3 Globe artichokes (1280x853)

I asked Louise Bryant from Wicor to tell us something about their work. Louise started MiniHorts; the name given to the group to give them an identity and an easy way to connect through Social Media.

Louise: Recognising the benefits of hands on learning experiences, Wicor Primary School has embedded horticulture into its curriculum over the past four years.

Each of the 435 pupils form part of the MiniHorts, children aged 4 to 11years old experience learning about horticulture and wildlife within exciting landscaped gardens, fit for purpose. Year groups spend time learning and having fun within their allocated garden for the appropriate link in their curriculum.

4 Heritage Orchard

Our grounds are diverse to meet the learning needs and beyond. They include a heritage orchard, tropical garden, Jurassic garden, stumpery, allotment, poly tunnels, pond, wildlife gardens and our own Darwin’s path and camera obscura (one of only 12 in the south of England).

We have put firm roots into the community via our grounds with valued volunteers helping with heavy work and passing on horticultural skills to pupils which are being lost.

5 Veg box scheme (1280x960)

Sustainable food production, healthy eating and wellbeing are very close to our core aims.

Children are actively engaged in learning about propagation methods, tackling pests and diseases followed by harvesting, cooking and tasting! Sharing our message is a powerful way of bringing the idea of healthier lifestyles to our families and communities.

The children run an organic vegetable box scheme where five surprise items are packed by pupils with our own cookbook and parents having taken to sharing how they have used some of the ingredients via social media.

6 Learning about production (1280x853)

This work was recognised by WWF and Alpro in 2014 with a food production award under the Green Ambassador scheme presented at HRH Estate at Highgrove.

Building on this success we have added chickens (and organic egg production) and are set to embark on establishing an apiary. This year our organic box scheme has been shortlisted for an Observer Guardian Ethical Award also known as ‘The Green Oscars’.

With horticulture now a part of the National Curriculum our MiniHorts are leading in the way they learn and are keen to share their experiences inspiring others, helping to create a new generation of horticulturists!

Follow @MiniHorts on twitter

7 Raised beds and compost (1280x853)

We would love to hear about similar schemes anywhere in the world and please share your thoughts about teaching horticulture in schools.

Andy McIndoe

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