The Children’s Garden

Project author:

Project summary:

 An observational study of whether the implementation of a designated garden area for children to plant and grow their own produce from seed, would enrich the children’s learning experiences at nursery. 

Children's garden

Introduction

 The setting is influenced by Froebelian principles, this project aimed to look at the benefits and enrichment to children’s learning with the proposed implementation of a designated area for the children to learn, develop skills and knowledge to nurture and grow plants and produce supported by relevant literature and policy. 

Tovey (2017) states the importance of children spending direct time in nature to forge positive, caring relationships with living things. Bruce (2021) reminds us how Froebel’s future self was influenced and sculpted by the considerable amount of time he spent in nature as a child.  

My purpose in undertaking this research was to learn if the proposed idea of a Children’s Garden would be beneficial to the children’s learning and experiences while at nursery. This project has also been included in our four-year School Quality Improvement Plan. 

Context

The setting aims to provide the highest possible standard of Early Education and Childcare in a nurturing, caring and safe environment inspired by Froebelian principles, affording children the opportunity to learn and grow at their own pace. The nursery has a large, open space outside for children to engage in outdoor activities and learning. This is a multi-functional play space and does include a small section with raised beds for planting and growing experiences, however due to the nature of the space and the limited lighting due to large trees the growing aspect is not always successful. 

The nursery team were keen to build a designated space, ‘The Children’s Garden’ to encompass Froebel’s principles around nature, community, and connectedness. The aim initially is that the garden space at the front of the nursery would allow the building of raised beds to be prepared with poly-tunnels for seeds to be sown and nurtured by the children. In time, it is hoped we can include the school and wider community in the care and maintenance of the garden, encompassing the principles of community and connectedness. 

On a personal level my Froebelian training and time spent working in Froebelian settings have heavily influenced by practice and pedagogy. I welcomed the vision for the project as I value the benefits of children having responsibility to care for something that they can share with others. I have witnessed the pride and feelings of achievement that children I have worked with have felt when they have grown their own produce and used it make food for snack at nursery. I feel quite privileged to be able to share my practice with others in taking this project forward and sharing the experiences with others as we collectively build the garden in small, achievable steps. This initial stage of the project as part of this course is the first steppingstone to fulfilling the intended vision. 

The setting has seventy-nine children and one hundred and three families attending daily and a staff team of twenty-three. I had to consider how I would best manage to collate data by myself with so many people. Qualitative research was applied via means of surveys to families and staff, as this was the easiest way to reach this number of people at once. Surveys were sent electronically to participants and were anonymised in the hope that people would share their views more openly. 

Working with children aged three to five years, the best means of collating data was by engaging in conversations and mind mapping their thoughts, ideas and mark making. This was an inclusive approach as all children could participate should they wish at level they could manage.  

It soon became apparent that this project was a large-scale project that would evolve over time, therefore this area of research was small scale and the introductory part of the overall project. This alleviated pressure to collate copious amounts of data. Resources and building for completion in a short timescale. 

 

Ethics

Permission of all participants was paramount, and I had to consider the most effective methods for both adult participants and children. I combined permission within the introduction of the survey to adult participants, they agreed by submitting response of the survey, non-completion noted no agreement. The children’s parent/carers were issued a written letter with project details seeking their written permission for the children’s involvement. Children were asked individually via verbal consent at time of participating in research discussions or mind mapping. These methods had positive results and worked well. 

 The setting is diverse with families from various cultural and language backgrounds. I was mindful of this when producing a survey. Disseminating the survey electronically via Microsoft Forms there were various language option available to choose for participants to access their home language. There was also the possibility to employ the aid of the Translation Services from City of Edinburgh Council if required, however this was not asked. I felt this was the least invasive way as participants had the option to use or not. 

As with families, there is diversification with our children with differing needs to consider. Children requiring Additional Support Needs I tailored my communication accordingly as to their needs as I do daily as to not alter my interactions with them. 

“There is so much to be enriched by – the physicality of hands and knees in the soil, the discovery of insects and invertebrates that sustain our natural spaces, the knowledge of how plants develop and where our food comes from”

Sandra - Nursery Parent

Findings

It became apparent early into the course that this project and vision was large scale and requiring time to come to fruition due to costs, labour and resources required. I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the project, however once I downscaled and accepted that within the timescale the course afforded, I would be initiating the ‘beginnings’ and from that point moving forward felt achievable. 

Surveys were emailed to all one hundred and twenty-three families, sadly only twenty- six of those responded. The initial survey link emailed did not work and I had hoped that once that was rectified and resent there would be further responses, however, only a small number were submitted thereafter. 

Similarly, the staff team responses to the digital survey, only ten submissions from a team of twenty-three. It is unclear now as to why the submissions were low and I can only presume reasons at this time, and I will consider ways to find out the reasons why for its failure in collating more data.  

I feel the data I did collect from the family surveys were positive and overall participants felt the implementation of the garden would be beneficial to the children… “The garden is a great idea; this will help the children learn productively about the world around them and how certain things grow. This will also help teach the child about the importance of nurture and care towards plants and others” (Anon Parent). Parents also reached out in support by offers to donate resources such as seeds, compost, cuttings, and their own time to build and maintain the garden when completed. The responses highlighted the importance our families felt about educating our children on where our food originates from… “So much to learn about where our food comes from. They would benefit massively, perhaps encourage less waste by learning what it takes to grow vegetables. Encourage healthy eating, appreciate that things take time e.g., beautiful flowers that grow” (Anon Parent). 

In parallel the staff team replies were equally positive albeit with a low-level response out of the twenty- three staff… “A child’s allotment/garden zone (separate from the free flow play space) – opportunities for families to work in partnership with nursery, connecting with growing groups and transition opportunities for nursery and primary one” (Anon Staff Team). Staff responses indicated a real benefit of the garden for developing the children’s knowledge around planting and working in collaboration with peers and adults… “They (children) will learn from an early age how to care for their world. To plant something from a tiny seed and watch it grow, helps children understand how to look after themselves and other things” (Anon Staff Team). 

Surprisingly, the survey feedback from families and the staff team echoed Froebelian principles of nature, community, and connectedness without everyone being Froebelian trained or have prior knowledge of Friedrich Froebel. 

Conclusion

As a stepping stone and starting point a large project, I feel this section of starting to build upon research has been positive and given on a small scale, some indication that the implementation of the ‘Children’s Garden’ will benefit the learning and experiences of the children at the nursery. 

My main points of learning personally as lead researcher are that moving forward, I will evaluate and consider how to increase submissions to surveys to obtain a more balanced level of data to work form. My current data albeit positive, does not reflect any challenges to consider and overcome as we progress with the build. 

Currently as a staff team we are taking into consideration our next phase of the proposal and its implementation and how we can collaboratively work with our children, families, and wider community to bring ‘The Children’s Garden’ to fruition

Research implications

It is hoped that the impact on the staff team and setting will be minimal and of a positive nature. We strive at our setting to work collaboratively and involve all people in the planning process and have their thoughts and views taken into consideration. We envisage this project engaging the team to embed and extend our Froebelian Principles and staff with Froebelian knowledge sharing and upskilling practitioners who are new to a Froebelian approach. This should afford us the opportunity to further extend the learning and experiences of our children engaging in nature.

The project is large scale and will require significant resourcing and manual labour. As a setting we are planning to engage with our families and wider local community to fundraise and seek donations to aid its implementation, thus embedding the principles of unity and connectedness.

Guided and supported by relevant Early Years policy and documents, including Realising the Ambition and My World Outdoors, we can reflect and self-evaluate the project against current provision and learning experiences for our children. Involving the children and families with the research will facilitate working relationships between home and nursery.

We hope to connect with our local community links and voluntary agencies to support implementation, construction and enabling successful partnerships, creating a sense of togetherness and unity. We seek to share our project once in fruition to our wider school cluster and share our practice and pedagogy and the success of working in partnership with children, families, and the wider local community.

Practitioner enquiry

Practitioner research is a valuable tool for myself as a reflective practitioner and for my setting in terms of using as a self-evaluation tool. It affords opportunities for collaborative working towards a change or identifying gaps in our practice to improve our learning opportunities and experiences for our children.

On a personal level I feel the opportunity to engage in practitioner research deepens and strengthens my own professional knowledge and practice.

Findings from practitioner research may have the influence to change policy and policy making within local level of our own settings, therefore routine practice prevents settings from remaining ‘stuck’ and offers opportunities for growth and development.

Practitioners can feel ‘daunted’ by research and can lack confidence to lead or take part – offering various levels of research programmes from beginner upwards may break down this barrier.

Leadership learning

I have welcomed the opportunity to reconnect with my research roots once again and refresh my knowledge of Froebelian practices. Having only been in my setting for under one year, the research gave me the opportunity to connect with staff and families and share knowledge and thoughts together. I have only been the first steppingstone for this project, however I look forward to our setting working together to secure our aim of a Children’s Garden in the future.

Author and role

Kellie-Anne Fairbairn, Early Years Officer

Comments from other network members

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

  1. Karen Leslie
    Karen Leslie
    12 Jun 2023 at 8:23 pm

    This is a very interesting project which I very much enjoyed reading. The passion behind creating the Children’s Garden is evident and I liked how you have considered froebelian principles when creating this environment. I also appreciated your choice of research method by using mind mapping and giving the children a voice. Thank you for sharing.


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