Learning by Growing Garden

Project author:

Project summary:

A study of how children’s knowledge from growing and looking after plants will influence them and impact their learning and staff awareness of Froebel’s principles to learning in the garden.




This project looks firstly at the Froebelian principle of children engaging with nature in line with Froebel’s teaching of them having ownership of their own plant/garden area, and secondly at the awareness of staff within the setting of these principles. My purpose in undertaking this work was pre-determined to help children understand that plants are living things which need looked after, and the interrelationship of all living things, with responsive opportunities throughout. And for staff to take a Froebelian approach to outdoor learning using the garden to its full learning potential.



When this project started the garden area had not been looked after/used to its full potential due to staff confidence or knowledge of growing plants and the garden area layout. It is a nursery priority to develop the garden into an area where children have “opportunities to experiment, explore and discover as emphasized by Froebel” (Bruce, 2021, p.53). We have the long term aim of giving ownership of the garden to the children in communal, group or individual plots. By giving ownership of this space this will allow children to explore and discover this ecosystem. The nursery has started working with South Lanarkshire Council Community Pay Back team who are designing and making new planters for the nursery, along with giving specialist gardening advice to staff. Observations of children pulling out plants by the stem and saying they would still grow showed children had a basic knowledge of how plants grow but no other knowledge of how to look after/care for them. Their knowledge of caring for plants was to water them daily, and they would grow. Staff have some limited knowledge of who Froebel, the person, was but little knowledge of his ideas and principles towards children’s early learning and the influence these have on children. Froebel trained staff plan to share their knowledge of Froebel, his principles and practice towards children’s early learning and the influence his principles and practice have on early learning across the world.


After consultation with my Senior/supporting practitioner and setting manager, it was decided to use two of the groups within the 3-5 room for this project. This would make it more manageable due to the time frame off the project. After gaining verbal consent from the children, signed consent from the parents/carers and staff involved was then sought. Children were also free to retract their consent if they wished. They had the opportunity to tell a staff member if they wanted to go or not to the plants. Through consultation with the children we chose to start the planting indoors due to the cold, frosty weather conditions outdoors. We researched the best conditions to grow plant and the children discovered warm light conditions were best. I had to consider and research what plants would show signs of growing soon after planting from seed, to keep the children’s interest and ensure they could see how their plant either grew or didn’t because of their actions in how they cared for it. I had to consider what knowledge staff had of Froebel and of plants so they would be able to share any knowledge they had and not to make them feel uncomfortable of questions they were unsure of from both the children and I during the project. I had to consider the best way to implement the project to maximise the learning for all children, making the choice to work with mostly small groups of 4/5 children at a time so that the more introverted children were not overwhelmed by the extroverted children. They would be able to share their thoughts and ideas and would potentially have better learning outcomes.

It is time to unearth what has been buried and to ensure that children, helped and in partnership with the adults who spend time with them, understand and act together in the importance of the earth which is our planet on which our survival depends.

Tina Bruce, 2021:56


We learned as expected that children have a basic knowledge of growing plants thinking that plants need sunlight and water daily to grow. “Research over the years has found that the children respond to the garden joyously” (Harding and Thomas, 2020, cited in Bruce 2021 p. 50). This was something I observed first hand with children asking excitedly to see and water their plants. These were the first signs of the children taking ownership of their plants and leading their own learning.

It was observed that children who were off nursery for the two week Easter holiday did not ask about their plants when they returned. This was expected as children’s interests change daily especially if they are not getting access to it daily. With hindsight it would have been better to give the children their plants home for the holiday. This would allow learning experiences to take place in the home. On return with daily access and seeing their peers asking and going to see their plants their enthusiasm did return to the levels that had been observed before the holiday. We observed how inquisitive the children are and how they learn from each other, when after a child said “You grow plants in the cupboard” they debated amongst themselves if this was true or not. This led us to grow some cress in sunlight and some in a dark cupboard. The one grown in the sunlight was green and straight up while the one grown in the dark was yellow and black and drooped over. The children were then able to compare with questions and comparisons to them looking after plants and mums looking after them. Saying how mums feed them and buy them bigger clothes as they grow just like they did putting the plants into bigger pots as they grew.

To show plants are a living thing, we separated three Daffodils from their roots putting one in water, one in no water and one in coloured water. This showed the children that flowers when separated from their roots don’t live too long with and without water. The coloured water showed how water travels up the stem with the flower head changing to the colour of the water. This experiment highlighted to the children that the water is needed for the plant to survive. The children then went on to discuss how they need food and water to grow with one child saying “You need to eat your food to be strong and healthy” These children’s comparisons backed Froebel’s thinking that “The child who has cared for another living thing is more easily led to care for his own life”

A staff questionnaire showed that although 21 out of 24 staff feel learning with nature in the garden is extremely important for children. Only 20 out of 24 of staff were somewhat confident or less of leading children’s learning experiences through growing plants, and that 20 out of 24 staff would be likely/very likely to engage with and use experienced support if it was available. As assumed 16 out of 24 staff described themselves of having a basic or less knowledge of Froebelian principles.

Going forward it is imperative the nursery makes the best use of the garden space, to provide the children with learning experiences of nature, the life cycle of plants and living things. Through these experiences of growing flowers, potatoes, making bird cake, they experience the changing seasons, the cycles of life and death, and growth and decay (Brown 2012). This will also allow the centre to involve parents and grandparents and the local community in these learning experiences. Working with the Community Payback team to upgrade the outdoor garden staff will have the opportunity to work with the specialist teacher to build confidence in leading learning experiences in the garden. It also reveals how important it is for the Froebel trained staff to share Froebel training with other staff on in-service days so that staff have an understanding and knowledge of Froebelian principles and learning and can use this in their practice not just in the garden but throughout the setting.


Children have a basic knowledge of caring for plants but given the opportunity the children displayed excitement and were keen to take the lead and gain further knowledge of plants and looking after them. We thought staff lack confidence in leading learning in the garden and have a lack of knowledge of Froebelian principles in learning with nature. The overall lesson is that the nursery must continue with the plans in place to train and support staff in both Froebelian principles and learning experiences in the garden and provide the children with daily/weekly learning opportunities in the garden area.

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. Klára Pazderková
    Klára Pazderková
    18 Sep 2022 at 5:40 pm

    Tento projekt mi přijde smysluplný a velmi zajímavý pro děti. Líbí se mi myšlenka, že dítě, které dokáže pečovat o něco živého, se pak bude lépe starat samo o sebe. Jistě bylo pro děti velmi zajímavé sledovat rostliny, jak rostou, jak se jim daří v různých prostředí (na slunci, ve skříni,…). Jen bych měla otázku, zda děti získaly před začátkem pěstování nějaké větší znalosti o rostlinách a zda si samy děti mohly vybrat, kterou rostlinu by chtěly pěstovat? Děkuji, za sdílení zajímavého projektu, Klára P.

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