The benefits of introducing community gardening to our setting

Project author:

Project summary:

Introducing community gardening to observe how this influences the children’s learning experience.

Introduction

The key focus for the project is to:

  • Develop a relationship between the nursery and our community (Parents and volunteers).
  • To help parents feel more involved in their child’s learning.
  • To improve the learning experience for the children
  • To help staff improve skills by working alongside the community and partners.

This is an important project to our setting, as we value the importance of learning outdoors. We have a garden area that is underused, and we would like to develop this space with the help of the community alongside the children. Due to COVID restrictions the settings relationship with our community has been affected.

As part of the research, I will be using research from Fredrich Froebel around the importance of parents feeling part of the community, and the benefit community learning has for the children.

Context

Prior to starting the project, the nursery had been given an extra garden area close to our setting. The space is an open area partly surrounded by overgrowth. There is a Polycrub on the site which has not been used. The staff have little gardening knowledge but are enthusiastic to learn and develop the space alongside the children and our community. For the project the community has been defined by who the children have suggested that can help them. The setting has garden areas attached to the building which are often set up daily by staff. They can often be used as areas to burn off energy during parts of the days, as well a space to learn and play. We have staff trained in forest schools, the children visit local woods regularly and experience the natural world, den building, climbing trees, ponds, and streams. The main aim of developing this garden is to encourage our community to help develop the area, to build stronger relationships, to deepen children’s learning by learning from people they are close to, and to build skills and knowledge for everyone involved. To have an area to grow our own food that we can eat for snack. Children can experience planting and growing flowers, to learn about mini beasts, and the part they play in nature.

Gardening is something I have little experience with, and I am learning at the same time as the children. Since I have little knowledge around developing the garden, I have had to seek advice from local gardeners in our community and they have volunteered to help by giving advice and coming along to our open day with parents. The project is based mainly outdoors therefore the time of year is important for planting and growing and unfortunately our climate can hinder this process.

I have been promoting this project for several months amongst my colleagues and have found a team member who is enthusiastic about Froebel’s thoughts and ways of learning, she is keen to help lead the project. She also knows little about gardening but is excited to learn with the children and build the community with the parents.

Methodology

It is important to me that the children are at the centre to the development. That their voices, thoughts, and contributions shape the project and how it is developed. I plan to do this by using a journal to document the progress using photos, children’s drawings, writings, thoughts, and ideas. I plan to use feedback from those involved in the project, as well as observations.

This is a long-term project, so for the purpose of the study I will only report on the current progress. I plan to involve the community by initially inviting who the children have chosen to an open day. I will gather feedback from the parents anonymously. I then hope to develop the link by having regular volunteers to help develop the space alongside the staff and the children. I will receive feedback from the staff of how they felt prior to the garden development and how they feel while working with the community. Long term we hope to have regular open afternoons, inviting parents, grandparents, local community groups. I hope to work with P1 as our children who plant will be in P1 before some of the food is grown so it will be good to develop a link with P1 that they also use our garden and then the children experience the full planting cycle.

Initially we introduced the garden to the children with regular visits. The staff and the children took pictures and discussed the space. The children helped make a plan of what needed done: – fix the gate, pick up the rubbish, weeds needed pulled out. They talked about what they wanted to grow and who could help them. The children talked about how we could get people to help us. They decided to make invitations. The children made shopping lists and visited local garden centres, spoke to the shop keepers, they worked with the staff to prepare the garden for planting by pulling out weeds. The children then decided to incorporate other areas of learning within our setting and made plans to build a bird house. The children are fully engaged in the project and share what they have been doing with their parents. Lots of parents knew about the open day before we had sent out information as the children had already shared this at home.

Involving members of the public to work alongside the children I had to be aware of the nursery policies around Child protection and Ethics. Parents all received permission slips to ask if their child could be involved in the project. When inviting parents to the open day they were aware we were getting help from local gardeners and that they would be in the garden during the open day. Staff were aware they wouldn’t leave a child in nursery care unsupervised with adults not employed by the council. Parents attending the open day had responsibility for their own child.

I feel that there is so many of Froebel’s quotes that I could use for this project but the quote that stands out for me is an old African saying. “It takes a village to raise a child” I also have a quote from one of the children from the very start of the project “Its so sad, the weeds are dead”

Ben age 4

Findings

We invited the parents to come along to an open day to help the children to start developing our garden. I invited along a local gardener. Initially at first both were a bit reluctant; the parents weren’t sure they had skills to bring, and the gardener wanted to be able to advise on where we planted things. I gave reassurance that any help was welcome, that I had very little knowledge as well and it was about us all learning together.

The day of the open day was terrible weather, however we had planned activities that could be done indoors for the parents and the children, as well as having activities planned for the garden. I put some information sheets around the room next to activities to highlight the possibilities for learning. I spoke to all the families individually explained the activities on offer and the things we needed help with, in the garden. The gardener came with some helpers, and they advised on what we needed to do with the areas we had, what bushes needed to be trimmed back what different plant were that were already growing. They then helped some children and their parents plant seeds. We also had a few children attending nursery that day who didn’t have parents there. I observed the parents taking a lead with the children, they were all working together, choosing where they wanted to be. They were chatting together about how hard it was to dig, the roots they found under the ground, and the earth worm that was very long, that needed to live in the earth. I observed a father and son build a bird house together taking turns to hammer in the nails. The children who didn’t have parents were going to the other parents and the grand parents for jobs to do. Everyone was very busy all afternoon.

I asked for some feedback from the parents that they were happy for me to share. One parent explained that “at first it was strange that their child seemed nervous, they felt because they were there, but after a short time the child grew in confidence and was proud to show the parent the jobs they had already done and was happy to get their parent involved in the activities the child wanted to do.” By the end of the session the gardener asked if he could come back in a few weeks’ time to help us plant the seedlings we had planted. Parents had said they would be happy to come back and help again. The staff all said they had a good afternoon that everyone seemed to really busy with their children and they would like to do more open events for the children and their families. The staff liked having the guidance from someone who knew what was best to develop the area, it gave them more confidence in what they could continue to do. The staff were keen to go back to the garden the next day with some children to continue with the work they had started the day before. I had a parent leave a message to say they had missed the open afternoon, but they would like to come along another time when it was suitable.

Since having the open day and working with the staff and the children prior to the event I can see that the enthusiasm from the children had spread to the parents. The parents liked experiencing the children’s achievements and the things they wanted to share. Some parents said how this wasn’t their comfort zone, but their children were keen for them to come along, and that they have had a nice afternoon.

Feedback from a member of staff:

“As a staff member the garden felt like a massive space with huge potential, but the thought of where to start and what to do was very daunting. I attended the open day with my niece and we both had a lovely time. The space had been planned out with a variety of jobs to be done. It was lovely to watch the families work together to dig vegetable patches and with the amount of stones we all laughed a lot! My niece particularly enjoyed making sandcastles with the plant pots. It was a lovely experience to see her socialise with other children and see how the children in our setting had bonding time with their family. The highlight for both of us was cutting up and apple and collecting the seeds. The garden is now looking great, and the hard work put in has given us all staff and children the motivation to get growing”

Conclusion

From observing the interactions of the community and the children I could see lots of enjoyment and learning happening naturally. The children were so proud to share their garden area with their loved ones. The children showed so much confidence and independence. They moved freely from the garden and the inside space. I feel by inviting parents into our setting and encouraging the interaction between the community and children, we will deepen the children’s learning that the parents will be included and feel valued, empowering them as important members of our community. From reading lots of Froebel’s research he described the importance of supporting parents to raise their children, to give them a sense of belonging to be part of the community. Through my observations I also witnessed Froebel’s thought that children love to share their achievements with those they love, and they explored things deeper with their family.

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. Gina Rendall
    Gina Rendall
    25 May 2022 at 9:11 pm

    What a breath of fresh air to read about families and community returning to settings. I really appreciated your honesty that actually this wasn’t a natural strength for you which is so important for children to see adults say hey I’m not sure let’s find out together. I felt that was the word that came to mind when I was reading, togetherness, what a great project for bringing everyone together. I want to get stuck into our outdoor area now with help!
    The last sentence really popped out for me ‘and they explored things deeper with their family’ appreciating those family connections and valuing them is vital for our children.


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  2. Judith Thomas
    Judith Thomas
    26 May 2022 at 3:23 pm

    Connecting children’s learning to the wider community sounds like a project that will engage families in the long term. Learning together definitely links with Froebel’s principle of unity and connectedness. The opportunities for children’s learning at home with their parents and in nursery will be an interesting part of your project that is sure to evolve. The opportunities and experiences that are created as children understand the cycle of nature will be exciting to see. An inspiring community allotment space for all to enjoy is a real asset and it is so great to see that the links in place to drive your project forward with people coming together is exciting. I would be eager to know if you grow your own produce how that would impact on the children’s learning experiences within the nursery.


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  3. Karen Petrie
    Karen Petrie • Post Author •
    27 May 2022 at 7:25 am

    Thanks for the comments, I was nearly not ready to write everything that we have done because so much is still happening. We have had more open days for parents and helpers to come. We now have two full veg patches and a full Polycrub or veg and fruit. It is amazing i also cant believe how fast seeds can grow! Our next plan is to keep developing the site by tidying the area around it and planting flowers. We have other community groups asking if they can come and help plant which is great. The school are sharing the space as well and the children moving to P1 are going to still use the space and eat the foods they have been growing for snack. I would love to have an abundance of veg that it could then be shared with families, maybe a plan for next year. Gardening was defiantly not my thing but I have learned so much alongside the children, it has been a great project.


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  4. Julie Johnston
    Julie Johnston
    31 May 2022 at 8:11 am

    I really enjoyed reading about this project. The involvement between children, staff, families and the community sounds truly engaging. The learning experiences you have provided for your children and staff have been invaluable and there is so much scope for future projects! well done.


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  5. Fiona Canning
    Fiona Canning
    31 May 2022 at 3:43 pm

    I have really enjoyed reading your project. I like the fact that the staff members are enthusiastic and are learning about gardening alongside the children, I also like the sense of pride the children have in their garden and talking about this with their families at home.


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