School garden creates experiences, community

The head of an English elementary school started a garden to teach kids about where their food comes from. But the garden quickly assumed a much larger role.

“Gardening has become a central part of the curriculum,” writes Tim Baker, headteacher at Charlton Manor Primary School in London in a blog titled How a School Garden has Transformed the way we Teach, published by The Guardian. “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,” Baker says. “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.”

Hard to be sure without spending some time with Baker, or at least having a conversation, but it sounds like the school has embraced the garden for some of the same reasons we at the Vegetable Project talk up getting outside and getting hands our dirty. Sometimes we like to say that we put doing and touching and tasting and experiencing at the center of teaching and learning. That’s a far different mindset than exalts knowing information.

Baker seems to see the garden as a vehicle for priming students for learning or building a disposition to learn, as much as for pursuing specific curriculum objectives. For example, the garden is an essential part of community at the school, Baker says, explaining that students sell produce at a school store within the school day and at a farmer’s market on weekends.

That might put school gardening in a difficult spot. It isn’t easy to hold experiences and sense of belonging up to a standardized testing tool. On the other hand, it isn’t clear how useful those measurements are. Baker says, “The garden has transformed the school and provided wonderful learning opportunities for the children.” And that seems as meaningful a measurement as ones that count the number of questions a student answers correctly.

— Bill Stoneman

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