Engaging young adults in gardening
For me, the most surprising thing about starting a school garden is that most young people don’t need any motivation to engage with horticultural or growing activities. Here at Hammersmith Academy we have found that if we want to inspire young people aged 11-18 with the natural world all we have to do is simply provide opportunities for them in school. We are located in inner-city London and many of our students live in apartment blocks which means that they are not exposed to these opportunities and therefore we needed to create space for them to gain this experience.
We have a range of activities that are offered in the garden every day from sowing seeds, pricking out young seedlings, weeding, watering, planting established plants, upcycling pallets and caring for chickens. We have a student team that lead on these activities which means that they are developing leadership skills as well as horticultural skills.
Some students enjoy releasing some tension breaking up pallets. Some enjoy the contact with animals. Others enjoy the relaxation of potting on seedlings, sowing seeds or watering. Each student is different.
Our spring displays are really uplifting. The students enjoy sitting in a beautiful space surrounded by colourful flowers. They often grab a watering can during break or lunchtime and water the plants without being asked to. On a day to day basis I have seen these activities have a calming influence on the students. One of students said that the garden calms him down. He noted that his behaviour improved in the lesson which occurred after his gardening time. However, as the day progressed, he found it harder to maintain his focus.
Other students have noted the time to be relaxing. Our year 7 students have developed new friendships when working with students in the garden. Some just like the release of tension that comes with engaging in a physical activity.
Tips for other secondary schools
In secondary school there is a big emphasis on the curriculum and getting students through exams. Horticulture doesn’t necessarily have to be offered as part of the curriculum. These activities can be offered during tutor time or after school. Gardens can be used as a conduit to promote mental health, environmental awareness, food growing and they can be used as a tool to develop self-confidence, communication skills, leadership skills and improve behaviour. If there is will, schools will find a way to make gardening a part of school life. So, my two biggest tips are to create an opportunity and have enough activities so that students can work in small groups and have the space to enjoy what they are doing.
Published in the Sunday Mirror
Gardens can be a tranquil and calming environment, perfect to teach in, explore and enjoy. Our 2018 school’s category winner, Hammersmith Academy, is an inner -city London school which makes full use of their green space to help their teenage students learn, whilst de-stressing from the pressures of everyday life.
The school’s Science Teacher has seen first-hand how students benefit from spending time outside, he said “Many of our students live in apartment blocks which means that they don’t get chance to enjoy time in a garden on a regular basis and therefore we need to create space for them to have these nature related experiences in school. For me, the most surprising thing about starting a school garden is that these young people don’t need any motivation to engage with horticultural or growing activities, they just need an opportunity. We have a range of activities that are offered in the garden every day from sowing and pricking out young seedlings, weeding, watering, planting, upcycling pallets and even caring for chickens. We have a student team that leads these activities, through which they are developing leadership skills as well as horticultural skills.”
He goes on to describe the benefits he sees his students getting from learning outdoors, saying “Our spring displays are really uplifting, so students enjoy sitting in a beautiful space surrounded by colourful flowers. They often grab a watering can during break or lunchtime and water the plants without being asked. Enjoying the release of tension that comes with engaging in a physical activity. These activities have a calming influence and many have developed new friendships when working with other students in the garden.”
Cultivation Street, sponsored by Calliope, rewards school and communities for all of their inspirational work. For information on linking with a garden near you, visit cutivationstreet.com.
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