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The Joys of Gardening February 4, 2011

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, Magazines.
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Pupils at Barfield School enjoying the fruits of their labours

In this extract from an article from the spring 2011 issue of Prep School magazine, Christina Tupper, science teacher at Barfield School, shares the view that the importance of encouraging children to participate in ‘hands-on learning’ is undeniable…

A garden presents countless opportunities for children of all ages to do just that. Surely, all children should experience the process of preparing a window box, a raised bed or a patch of land to grow plants. Not only is it good physical activity, albeit potentially messy, but also there are aspects of the whole experience that transcend the ever-present learning objectives to which we teachers have to attend.

Great determination is required to push a hand-trowel into hard soil, especially when trying to dig to the very bottom of that frustratingly deep dandelion root. Physical strength and co-ordination are involved in simply getting a fork fully into the ground (hopefully without going through someone’s foot: another excellent health and safety learning opportunity).

It is to be celebrated, especially if leaning back on the fork brings forth a clump of soil teeming with worms and various other invertebrates. Then there is the broader learning of awe and wonder: the simple acknowledgement of one of life’s dirtier secrets, that manure means bigger and better plants. This can take some adjustment in young people’s minds when they are so often steered away from such dirty concepts.

Once the beds are prepared, there are negotiations to be done with the children to decide on which seeds to sow. This planning needs input from the teachers as their choices can be ambitious; they may not appreciate the extent to which pumpkins will grow and cover everything, or that many plants neither flower nor produce fruit in line with school terms, so they won’t see ‘the fruits of their labours’.

What a joy it is to see the culmination of the season’s growth, and to see little hands ripping up potato plants and digging furiously through the soil for soon-to-be-potato dishes; mashed, boiled, roast or in a salad with strips of the neighbouring chives. Tomatoes can be so immediate, if they can be turning red as the children come back to school after the summer holidays, as they can pick them, and if brave enough, eat the juicy little ones there and then. As for strawberries, there are few plants with such a wow-factor.

Provided that the slugs and birds have been kept at bay, nothing competes with a fresh, juicy, sweet strawberry. It is at this point however, that, with careful planning and considerable patience and will-power, the harvest can be taken even further. If the children can avoid the temptation of just chomping on a particularly juicy looking strawberry, they can cut off the green bits, wash them, and put them straight away into the freezer.

There, the whole season’s crop can be gathered, to be brought out on a dull autumn day, thawed, then blended into a smoothie, or if you are feeling indulgent, with a block of vanilla ice cream and milk, into a glorious milkshake…

Prep School magazine is the only magazine written by prep and junior school teachers, for prep and junior school teachers. It is published three times a year, at the start of each school term (September, January and May) and available as a two-year subscription or a single issue purchase via eZine.

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