Grow Through Life

Project author:

Project summary:

An observational study on exploring plant life cycles, sustainable learning opportunities and the impact on professional practice within the setting.


Recently we have been striving to provide more planting and growing experiences for the children in our outdoor spaces. We have explored this superficially and this project will look more in depth into plant life cycles, sustainable living, connectedness with nature and developing a deeper understanding of interrelationships with living things in the environment around us. I will detail the progression of sustainable learning opportunities within my setting and share my findings on the benefits of these opportunities for staff and social developments for children.


Through the completion of Froebel in Childhood Practice I observed the benefits of child development in relation to care and nurture of plants and crops. I developed an understanding of connectedness and a respect for the child’s ownership of their own garden and learning. Dr Lynn McNair tells us “When we are outdoors, we can enjoy the magic of discovery … through a child’s intrinsically motivated exploration” (Dr. Lynn McNair, Inspiring Scotland, 2020, A Practitioner’s Guide to Outdoor Play Based Learning). However, before this project I observed a reluctance from some staff to participate in these types of experiences as they were ‘not green fingered’ or they didn’t ‘enjoy the outdoors’. Many of our children access our service from the immediate area and live in flats with minimal access to their own outdoor spaces and there is limited green spaces within the near vicinity. We have an allotment area within the nursery grounds but it is fenced off from the main outdoor space and consequently not accessed as regularly as the main nursery garden. Learning for sustainability and plant life cycles are opportunities that are present within the setting on a very small scale. Nevertheless, these opportunities require regular up-keep and we cannot rely on one or two adults to keep it afloat as there is minimal breadth and depth as a result. Subsequently, this project was highlighted as part of the settings improvement plan as an area for further development.

Before commencing this project I obtained permission from our gatekeeper and parents of the children participating in this project. This project focused on 6 children from my key group in addition to their parents and colleagues who were identified through their appraisals for personal development. I will use qualitative research methods to gain an understanding of thoughts and opinions on these types of learning experiences from all 3 focus groups via questionnaires, interviews and consultation groups. I will observe and listen to the children’s developing social interactions as a result of these experiences. I distributed questionnaires to parents and staff to gather their initial thoughts and experience in relation to sustainable learning opportunities, more specifically, their current knowledge, the benefits and any barriers, to determine a baseline for going forward. I consulted with the children in their key group about what they thought we might be doing and learning and took on board their requests. The children had the opportunity to opt out of the experience at any time if they no longer wanted to participate.


The adults participating in the project were parents or guardians of the children from the key group to ensure that the adults were familiar to the children and were directly experiencing the results of the project first hand. We do have English as an additional language within the setting but not within the key group and therefore had to consider this when seeking information and sharing the findings of the project. The child’s permission was requested and given verbally and via a mark making signature, as they are only 3 and 4 years of age some are too young to understand the written word. Parental consent was also requested as they are their child’s legal guardian. Additionally, consent was obtained from the gatekeeper to allow the project to be carried out. This project could have potentially resulted in a disclosure from a child regarding abuse or neglect. In the event a disclosure was made I would relay the information directly to my child protection officer.

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



When exploring the life cycles of the plants and watching growth – seed, to root, to stem – the children began talking about what happens next. Ultimately the subject of death presented itself with one child saying ‘once it grows big and tall, its dies’. “A Froebelian approach does not shy away from difficult subjects but recognises children’s fascination with natural processes” (Tovey, 2017:67). To explore this in more depth, we chose two different pumpkins from our garden that had fallen off the vine, put one into a glass jar and one into a plastic container with soil and we have watched what is happening to them over time. We have learned that although they are dying, they are returning to the soil, adding nutrients and goodness to the soil – connectedness. We have also observed the Pumpkin in the plastic container re growing and the one in the glass container, still not fully decomposed. This has resulted in the need for further exploration into the environmental factors contributing to each stage of regrowth.

In relation to social development, most of the children within the key group, almost always wanted to go out and check on the progress of the plants/crops. Some of the children within this group would previously avoid accessing the outdoor spaces. The seeds that we planted early on in this project have produced some fresh crops. From these crops we had, carrots, leek, potatoes’ and a single radish. The children helped to retrieve them from the allotment and in-depth discussion took place about what we could do with them. Most of the children had never tried a radish and it was decided that we would cut up the radish to try it and make soup with the rest of the ingredients. Other ideas such as ‘stovies’ and mashed potato were suggested as children made connections between these crops and meals they have at home with them. One child spotted the top of a vegetable and we spent a long period of time talking about and wondering what it might be, enhancing their language using new terms such as root and stalk, exploring colour and speculating size. There was a buzz within the group which encouraged the children to chatter and vocalise to each other their excitement. The children were keen to share their work and discoveries with their parents; ‘look, come and see!’.

From analysing the feedback from the initial questionnaire, staff and parents both identified knowledge as a common barrier to engaging in more sustainable learning opportunities. Parents also identified, time and space as other barriers. At the end of the project, feedback informed me that many staff felt more confident in this aspect of sustainable learning and say they would be confident in continuing these experiences as part of the nursery day. A peer mentor programme has been suggested to buddy up with more confident staff initially. Staff are more aware of the benefits of this aspect of learning as they have experienced the progress first hand. There has been a positive shift in our pedagogy and our allotment area is now embedded within the routine of the day.

Going forward, through consultation with staff and children we have decided to make grow bags and food bags for families with fruit and veg inside to support a more sustainable lifestyle and include recipe’s for healthy balanced meals to continue the exploration of life cycles and connectedness in our daily lives.

Froebel suggests that through gardening children would begin to make links between their own lives, plants and animals, thinking about what we all need to survive such as food water and shelter (Helen Tovey, 2017, Froebel trust, Froebel’s principles and practice today).


In conclusion, this project has inspired our progressive pedagogy. It has developed staff confidence and improved the learning outcomes for our children. Our staff, children and families have developed more knowledge on growing crops, healthy diets and plant life cycles.

From observing the children it is clear that the wonder and curiosity this project presented was invaluable. The children now display a keen interest in growing their vegetables and thinking; what can we create with these. As we prepare our own snacks within the setting the children will retrieve crops form the allotment and bring them to the table to enjoy as part of their daily diets.

We continue to marvel at the life cycle of the pumpkin, proudly placed at the front door for all to wonder.

Dissemination/Impact Report

Moving forwards, we plan to share the findings of this project with parents by hosting ‘Blether Sessions’. These Blethers allow parents to participate in active dialogue to share their thoughts and ideas with us. We aim to provide grow bags for families to take home with information packs to promote shared learning experiences. This will help to embed sustainable life skills for our children and families. To ensure this information reaches all our families we will  be compiling a leaflet which we can share via email and on our social media platform. Distributing this information to staff is high on our agenda to ensure we embed this ethos within our setting and we aim to do so at our next staff training day in addition to sharing our information leaflet and practitioner inquiry report.

Research implications

The Team/ whole setting

Throughout this inquiry project we have had mixed reactions from staff members; most have been open to the concept of the research and to enhancing their knowledge and skills. However a small number of staff members have shown reluctancy to adopt the knowledge and skills being shared by the Practitioner during her inquiry. Time has been taken by the practitioner to consult with these staff members on the reasons for this research and the importance of the type of learning taking place in regard to the learning and development of the children participating.

As the research was exploring life cycles of plants one child raised the subject of death but in relation to plants and was very open in his discussion. This led to a parent of another child from the group feeling uneasy about this subject being discussed with children so young. The practitioner consulted with this parent to explain how this conversation started and was very skilled in explaining the Froebelian approach in relation to helping children understand life’s processes and not shying away from this subject. After this conversation the parent felt more comfortable with their child being part of this discussion and understood the importance of children having a good understanding of this issue.


Although this project was ongoing with this one key group the practitioner was skilled in ensuring that all areas of the curriculum were still promoted throughout to give the children the best opportunities to promote their development and learning.


Within this project there were financial implications; for the project to be successful the practitioner had to source/purchase a variety of resources eg: seeds, planting tools etc. To ease the pressure of this the practitioner applied for the climate emergency fund from South Lanarkshire council; this assisted her in purchasing plentiful resources for the children to use throughout the project and beyond. This also meant that we can further extend this type of learning now the project has ended.


As the practitioner had planned to use real tools within this project, we ensured that health and safety policies were adhered to, and risk assessments were updated in relation to this.

The practitioner also consulted with parents of the key group children to ensure they were aware of the tools the children would use and the policies, risk assessments and safety measures in place.


Sharing good practice is very effective for the continuous improvement of early years’ settings; The practitioner is very keen to share this research and to support other settings who also have a passion for taking this type of learning and development forward. However, in relation to this there are implications for other settings in the sector; Other settings may not have the outdoor space required to create opportunities for this type of learning and it is possible that other settings may also not have Froebelian trained staff who would have the knowledge, skills and practice to support this type of pedagogy.

Practitioner enquiry

Practitioner research is extremely valuable for positive improvement of an early years’ setting; I believe that “bottom-up initiative, top-down support” (Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2005) is the best approach to this for effective and sustainable outcomes. To give practitioners who work daily within the playrooms the responsibility for research implementation with support and guidance from management means they will be more invested in the project and more likely to independently extend this further throughout the setting.

From analysing the in-depth research done by this practitioner and being able to see the positive outcomes from it I feel that more practitioner research within our setting would be extremely beneficial for children, families, staff, and the whole setting improvement agenda.

For this to be successful more practitioners within the setting would need to partake in the Froebel in childhood practice course.

It would also be greatly beneficial for practitioners from different establishments to link with each other as mentors to share good knowledge and practice and be an impartial critical friend.

Leadership learning

As a leader I have learned that giving the practitioner the autonomy to plan and implement this project with my guidance has been more beneficial for the setting than it would have been If I had led the research.

As a leader I use a mix of different leadership styles and can adapt these to suit the situation or person/people I am working with however from observing the practitioner’s style of ‘Authoritative leadership’ (Goleman 2002) I was able to identify that this style of leadership was very effective when leading a project as a clear vision was set along with achievable targets at different points in the project. I have learned that when taking forward a project of this calibre that an authoritative approach would result in the best outcomes.

Author and role

Tammy Henderson: Head of Establishment

Comments from other network members

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

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