A Place of Learning: For Natural Learning

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Vegetable Gardening in Schools

Beautiful red fungi flourish in compost.Your school garden is an outdoor classroom. The outdoor classroom enables children to explore the natural world at their own pace. Once the walls to education are removed, the children dive into the living interest of their garden. Collecting compost is like discovering a world of wonder for children as beetles, spiders, worms, centipedes all clamber about in their disturbed home. Half a dozen children staring into a barrow of compost and discussing  how bugs and beetles move is Natural Learning.

Respect for all living creatures is one of the first  principles of Narural learning. Respect for living creatures means watching only.  When Children are allowed the time to watch how a worm moves or where a beetle goes, then they lose their fear of other living creatures and their fear is replaced by interest.

Children learn to share the garden space with other creatures taking care to move gently around the butterfly and the plants that tumble out of the garden.

A well designed organic school garden

The design of your school garden is really important for its success. Designs need to  vary with the age of the children. Pathways and access to the garden for children are critical. It is really hard to work in a garden if  you can't reach!  There are many factors in the design of a school garden. Mary will come to your school and work with staff, parents and children to create together a beautiful useful garden that will be a centre of attraction. At Shirley Intermediate the garden attracted visitors like a magnet.email mary@aplaceoflearning.co.nz

The Purpose of Vegetable Gardening in Schools

Preschoolers deeply involved in gardening.The first purpose of Vegetable Gardening in Schools is to provide children the opportunity to  observe the world with their own eyes  and  to directly engage in a natural environment.  Many of our children today are almost completely insulated from the natural environment, leaving them with a massive deficit in the knowledge of how the planet they live on works.

The second purpose is to give children the skills to grow organically and prepare their own food.  Our children will be more resilient if they know the basics of growing their own food.

Sampling Snow PeasThe third purpose to to encourage children to taste fresh food. Our society is experiencing massive health problems in the form of obesity, lack of exercise and diabetes.  Children quickly learn how to hunt for snow peas or pluck a carrot.  Children of all ages are amazed at the burst of flavour and sweetness from a freshly picked vegetable or fruit. It is a surprise for many that vegetables are sweet. Children who have been in the garden, see vegetables as tasty treats, while many children who are not exposed to the garden view vegetables with suspicion.

The fourth purpose is working together. Organic Vegetable Gardening works when we all work together.  Recently children at Shirley Primary  had grown 2 barrow loads pumpkins. It took three children working together to push and guide the barrow

  • Putting a tiny, hard seed in the ground and watching it grows is a magical process that completely engages children. "Look its taller than me now."
  • Children take pride in observing the unfolding world of the garden. Seeing the bee landing place on a broad bean or the ripening tomatoes. Is it ready yet?
  • Secondary school students are equally fascinated in the ecosystem of the garden and the soil.
  •  Sharing the produce with each other and their families is a moment of connectedness.

Learning method.

Working together to prick out seedlings.Children come to the garden in small groups. A group of 6-8 is an ideal size. This provides each child plenty of opportunity to try new skills and practice them. In a small group, children can follow their interest. For example some children love watching bugs and beetles while others love digging and barrowing. Previous experience has shown that 45 minutes is an optimal lesson length.

The Learning environment 

  • Hands on learning
  • Experimentation is encouraged.
  • Human realtionships are cooperative and appreciative.
  • As children gain experience they are able to share gardening knowledge.

As an experienced teacher Mary is happy to take very small groups of children who have difficulty with classroom learning.

What will the children learn within the course of a year

Soil skills and knowledge.

  • Grown by our own hands.Understanding of the ecology of the soil through the Soil Food Web.
  • Observation of the life in soil.
  • Able to discover when soil is moist /wet /dry
  • Paricipate in building a compost heap.
  • Able to use food waste to build soil fertility e.g. compost / bokashi
  • Able to use mulch
  • Rspect for the soil e.g. no standing on the soil
  • Able to walk on pathways.

Plant Skills and Knowledge

  • A seed tray set up by intermediate school children.Identifies leaves, stems and roots on  a plant
  • Identifies the plants grown in the garden.
  • Recognises some herbs from sight and smell.
  • Identifies some weeds from sight and smell
  • Knows the basic functions of a leaf. Compare leaf shapes as an aid to idenification 
  • Knows the basic functions of a flower
  • Observes flowers interacting with insects.
  • Discovers where the seeds are on a plant

Growing Skills

  • Watering the garden.Able to transplant seedlings and hold them correctly
  • Able to form a seed drill in open ground
  • Able to plant seeds of different sizes
  • Able to plant sow seeds in a seed tray
  • Know that it takes time for plants to grow
  • Collect and harvest seeds.
  • Identifies when a plant is ready for harvest.
  • Able to harvest correctly e.g. removing peas, courgettes.
  • Able to store harvest
  • Able to weed around plants
  • Able to follow a watering procedure.


  • Harvesting broad beansEnjoy eating fresh food in the garden e.g. snow peas.
  • Collect harvest
  • Able to prepare vegetables for cooking

Tools and Technology

  • Uses tools correctly and safely
  • Finding solutions to problems e.g. supporting climbing beans.
  • Transporting water
  • Recycling - Using the garden to recycle waste matter through composting / worm farm.

Social and Cooperative skills

  • Happily share the garden space with other creatures
  • Share tools and working area
  • Able to share harvest with others
  • Work cooperatively to complete a project e.g. planting seeds
  • Enjoy the garden.





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