Achieving Sustained Focus on Planting and Growing within the Setting

Project author:

Project summary:

A collaborative study on how practitioners can encompass a whole year focus on growing through all seasons not just spring and summer but also the in the colder months and why this is important to child development.

Introduction

This project looks at the benefits of regular gardening on, not only children’s development but also their health and wellbeing. It considers the children’s voice through children’s focus groups to gain an understanding of what matters to the children, and it looks at child engagement levels before and after planting experiences to find out if their wellbeing and involvement improves as a result from learning about plants and participating in growing activities. The project also includes a practitioner and parent workshop to gain valuable insight into how planting and growing experiences can be continued throughout the full year.

My purpose in undertaking this work was to find out if facilitating full year planting experiences is key to improving learning outcomes for children and how an action plan can be formulated to ensure planting is sustained throughout the full year.

Context

Last year, I undertook a planting project, as part of my Froebel in childhood Practice Course to develop a designated planting space in the setting’s garden. Observations during that time, established that spring and summer months were successful, involving the many children taking part in planting activities which was supported by parents, who helped build planters and provided planting resources. Local businesses also donated resources to support the project. The children enjoyed taking part in these experiences with involvement levels increasing, however, there has been little to no focus maintaining the garden during the colder months.

As part of my research, it was essential to find out why planting experiences are no longer taking place so that any barriers to participation could be addressed in an action plan. Continuing to engage children in nature, supporting the settings food for thought initiative and improving community links are just a few examples of how full year gardening might have a positive impact on the lives our families and the wider community.

By speaking to the children about how they felt about being outside even when it is cold, they seemed enthusiastic about continuing gardening activities, therefore, it was crucial for me to find out if there was a way to encompass a full year focus to sustain planting experiences throughout all seasons.

I wanted to gain insight from a variety of sources but also was keenly aware of time restraints and participant availability. Initially, I wanted to conduct child focus groups and adult workshops with approximately two practitioners, four parents, and four children, to collect ideas and perspectives from a variety of sources in an open, informal way. The child focus groups occurred twice over the course of the week, and I used a Leuven scale after the first focus group then re-visited the Leuven scale after some planting activities and the second focus group. This was to measure the children’s engagement levels to see if they had improved.

Due to participant availability, I conducted one adult workshop with one practitioner, the PEYO and three parents. I also distributed a copy of the topics we would be discussing to those who couldn’t attend. This ensured that I could still collate their valued thoughts and opinions.

Ethics

The ethical issues I had to consider prior to and during my research was to ensure that all participants wanted to take part and they knew what would be expected of them. I distributed parent and child consent forms and practitioner consent forms. The forms provided a brief description of my project, outlining what would be involved. It also explained that any information provided by the participants would be treated as confidential and no names would be recorded on any documentation. It was also important to ensure permission was also given for me to record short quotations from the workshops and focus groups in an anonymised way, which would only be used to illustrate my finding he ethical issues I had to consider prior to and during my research was to ensure that all participants wanted to take part and they knew what would be expected of them. I distributed parent and child consent forms and practitioner consent forms. The forms provided a brief description of my project, outlining what would be involved. It also explained that any information provided by the participants would be treated as confidential and no names would be recorded on any documentation. It was also important to ensure permission was also given for me to record short quotations from the workshops and focus groups in an anonymised way, which would only be used to illustrate my findings.

 

While child focus groups and child participation were granted from the parents by written consent, I also had to ensure that the children gave their consent too. For the focus groups, the children were all asked individually if they wanted to talk about planting with other children and they were invited to take part in planting activities following the focus groups. I made sure that they understood that they didn’t need to participate if they didn’t want to. Thankfully all children were willing and enthusiastic about learning about planting, they didn’t seem fazed about expressing themselves in a group and were highly engaged in our bean planting activity. Consideration was given to do individual activities with some children if they didn’t want to take part in a group, but they were all happy to take part in a group, therefore, this wasn’t required.

 

“If you want a child’s mind to grow, you must first plant a seed.”

Thomas Berry (Berry, n.d.)

Findings

I learned that from the first child focus groups, most children had some limited knowledge of gardening from the experiences they took part in last year at nursery and some children told me they do gardening at home. When asked about what they wanted to plant in the nursery garden, I received a wide variety of answers, from trees, blue, red, green flowers, fruits, vegetables but one answer stood out from a little girl who told me, “Pumpkins, I can cook the pumpkin seeds, and make a Jack o Lantern for Halloween”. This child was talking about seasonal planting, obtaining pumpkins which would be available in autumn time.

Although the children could tell me what they wanted to grow in the garden, they needed some prompting and support to talk about what a seed needed to help it grow. I completed a Leuven scale form following the first focus group with the children averaging around 2 to 3 for wellbeing and involvement. It considered how interested they were in the discussion, did they seem happy to participate, and how much information were they contributing to the discussion. Following a series of planting activities throughout the week, such as reading planting and growing books, and concentrating on our book of the moment, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, we planted our own ‘magic’ beans into zip lock bags using damp kitchen paper and stuck them to the window. After a few days, they could see the roots and shoots of the beans beginning to grow. The bags at the top of the window were growing more, one child stated, “that’s the biggest, it’s near the sun”. Another Leuven scale was completed at the end of the week where the children were now averaging between 3 and 4 for wellbeing and involvement. It was interesting to see them going back to their beans throughout the week to ‘check’ on them, looking at how much they had grown and asking to water them with the “little watering can”. These activities demonstrated various learning taking place such as nature and growing, social development, responsibility and caring for another living thing, numeracy, and science to name a few.

From the parent and practitioner workshop, I received a lot of valuable insight and ideas on ways to keep children interested in gardening throughout the colder months. I had the expertise of one parent who worked in a local garden centre who suggested mini grower sessions where they do a grow reward card for families and would be willing to do some sessions with our children at the nursery. She also suggested investing in warming fleeces to keep the plants warm, vegetable trugs and poly tunnels which would be big enough for the children to work inside them to keep warm too. Another parent had researched the benefits of gardening with children and was able to provide some varied examples of the many benefits such as providing the children with an awareness of healthy foods and where they come from, taking into consideration science through photosynthesis. She suggested creating an outdoor chalk board to show the children the process of growth. Another parent spoke about her child’s experiences they have had growing in their garden stating that Grandparents tend to do most of the gardening because they have a greenhouse which her child loves and she particularly loves helping to weed, which is an activity which can be carried out all year round. We discussed the importance of allowing the children to experience the garden in all seasons so that they could see the effect of the changing seasons on the garden and make connections to life cycles and decay in meaningful ways.

 

One EYO and our PEYO attended the workshop, and I distributed a copy of the topics we would be discussing to the other EYO who couldn’t attend. Discussions determined that we practitioners understand the endless benefits of gardening on child development but there is a need to find out more about what to plant and when. The PEYO discussed the food for thought initiative she has been involved in, explaining that it links to our improvement plan with a priority of working in partnership with the community and families to build positive relationships. Through this initiative, we spoke about gardening and the possibility of involving the community to support growing our own fruit and vegetables organically then to use them to prepare healthy meals for our families through a parental engagement group. This will not only help to build positive relationships, but it will also help adults and children obtain skills for life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my findings determined that there are many benefits to providing regular gardening experiences on children’s development, and I was provided with numerous examples of how gardening also has a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. The child focus groups offered further understanding on what matters to the child, and it was noted that there was a need for seasonal planting to obtain pumpkins for Halloween. With engagement levels increasing following planting experiences, this confirmed the importance of continuing these experiences throughout the full year.

Through the practitioner and parent workshop, I was able provided with valuable ideas and suggestions on how planting and growing experiences can be continued throughout the full year and there was the possibility to link with a local garden centre to provide mini grower sessions. Discussions also highlighted a need for further training and research on what to plant and when.  My purpose in undertaking this work was to find out why facilitating full year planting experiences is key to improving learning outcomes for children and I feel that the evidence gained has proven that it is vital.  The findings will now be shared with the management team and a joint action plan will now be formulated to ensure planting is sustained throughout the full year.

Dissemination/Impact Report

Please find a copy of my findings attached. This project has given me the opportunity to raise the profile of the benefits of gardening in all seasons. My next step will be to ensure that my findings are presented to the management team so that an action plan can be formulated and to ensure that the action plan is carried out. It is important that there is a collaborative approach and collective responsibility to promote an interest in engaging with nature, this is why all staff and parents will continue to be consulted and involved in planting and growing projects throughout the year. More importantly, the children will continue to be consulted and their requests and views be respected, followed up and taken forward.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Poppy Richards
    Poppy Richards
    23 Mar 2024 at 9:19 am

    I love the holistic nature of your project, including wellbeing, knowledge of the natural world, food and cooking, seasonality and cultural events as well as community and collaboration. Lovely also to have some quotes imbedded in the report, really gives an insight into the thoughts and comments of the participants.


    Report comment

  2. Tracy Brown
    Tracy Brown
    25 Mar 2024 at 8:15 am

    Loved your project it is a very interested read as our setting is currently trying establish planting and growing in our garden. your project has given me a lot to think about. Well done.


    Report comment

  3. Erin McGibbon
    Erin McGibbon
    25 Mar 2024 at 3:30 pm

    I loved reading about your project. I think the idea of teaming up with a local garden centre is a fabulous idea. Well done!


    Report comment

  4. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    27 Mar 2024 at 1:11 pm

    Well done Kirsty and Gill, some fantastic work you have completed with your practitioner inquiry. Great to see your participants have involved children, families and colleagues.
    Wonderful that you managed to seek expertise from a parent with good community links.😊


    Report comment

Add a comment