As well as our core project model, Neighbourhood Gardens, we are also proud to have established two key child-centred initiatives across the communities we operate in, namely; School Farm, and Natural Play. While School Farm creates a space where children can learn to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other plants, Natural Play offers children the opportunity to play freely in their local greenspaces. We believe that both models support kids to get involved with community greenspace projects – but why is this important? Read on to find out more.
A research paper published by Science Direct, which looks at the impacts of school landscapes on the mental wellbeing of pupils, outlined that improved physical and mental wellbeing, resilience, and environmental awareness were just some of a variety of benefits that exposure to greenspace can have for children. The paper’s study concluded that exposure to greenspaces on school sites can have ‘significant, positive impacts on recovery from […] mental fatigue.’ Another study found that 45% of pupils demonstrated improved behaviour after taking part in pupil-led projects such as tidying and renovating their school’s garden site, which suggests, as argued by Demos in conclusion to its Pupil Power project report, that participation in a greenspace, nature-based project at school can aid in tackling disengagement and poor attention in the classroom, and subsequently improve children’s mental wellbeing.
This is corroborated by a study looking at the importance of urban gardens in developing children’s innate human connection to nature, which argued:
Exposure to and connection with nature is increasingly recognized as providing significant well-being benefits for […] children. Increasing numbers of children growing up in urban areas need access to nature to experience these benefits and develop a nature connection.
School Farm projects are one way in which children can establish the connection to nature which these studies argue is detrimental to both physical and mental wellbeing, as well as improved concentration in the classroom. By allowing children to learn outdoors in nature, in a way that connects practical farm activities to theoretical lessons in the curriculum, Farm Garden states that:
Educational attainment has been shown to increase in schools with an active school farm, and results show that there are huge benefits to self-esteem, confidence, mental health, skills and opportunities.
Alongside these individual benefits to children, participation in a School Farm project also equips future generations to tackle both local and global community challenges such as caring for the environment, and growing and farming local produce sustainably, demonstrating that these initiatives are key to shaping responsible citizens that are engaged with global issues.
Learning how to grow, care for, and harvest a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers both wild and edible is a key aspect of our School Farm projects. Through science experiments, tasting sessions, use of garden tools, nature-based crafts, soil care, and exploration of the site, pupils develop a range of individual skills, from horticultural and identification, to data collection, problem-solving, concentration, and numeracy. Using permaculture ethics, our School Farm Leaders teach pupils to work in harmony both with one another, and with the natural world around them:
As far as personal skills, at the beginning of each session, we talk to the children about the ethics we are using that day, and have these visualised on the board. We have three categories; Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share. Everything that we do on the farm fits into one of those categories, and allows the children to develop those personal skills. For example, when the children are learning how to care for creatures, that’s part of Earth Care, while taking care of the tools is People Care, and working well in a team is Fair Share. Our view is that if we promote them every week the children will be more aware of them, and the teachers will sometimes say that they refer to these ethics back in class.
One of our School Farm Leaders, Julie Parkin, highlights how time spent on the School Farm also establishes pupils’ connection to nature:
By spending time every week in nature, exploring plants, soil and meeting lots of living creatures, children understand the connection between the food they eat and the natural world: learning about seasonality, the cycles of life, the importance of sunshine, rain and soil, and the pleasures of eating food straight from the ground and sharing it with their families.
Led by our School Farm Leaders, pupils also learn about real careers in agriculture, horticulture, and science through activities focused on biodiversity and sustainability: learning how to care for the planet, and the importance of ecosystems, all of which encourages children to make positive environmental choices in their future lives to benefit their communities.
While School Farms offer an education-based setting for children to explore nature, Natural Play sessions provide them with the opportunity to freely explore and play in wilder greenspaces such as woodlands, which PNAS’ study argues offer more complex and challenging play experiences than private gardens and parks, resources which are not available to all children, particularly those living in urban areas. The study found that early experiences of nature play are essential to establishing and maintaining a child’s positive connection with nature throughout their life, and can increase their motivation to protect their local greenspaces, again demonstrating both the individual and subsequent community benefits to involving children in greenspace projects. The study also argued that a fear of nature, and an inability to identify common wildlife and plant species, demonstrate a growing divide between children and the natural world, which could be combated by programs that improve their knowledge of the environment.
Our Natural Play sessions, in collaboration with The Green Team, use outdoor games, nature-based crafts, exploration, the creation of hammocks, zip lines, and dens, and outdoor practises such as safe fire-lighting, to blend outdoor fun with environmental education and subsequently develop the children’s ability to evaluate risk, care for and become more confident in their local greenspaces, and enjoy the natural world both individually and together as a group.
Our Community Place Officer, Alan Gordon highlights the benefits of the sessions:
Natural Play is great for children because it allows them to be themselves, use their natural curiosity to learn and explore, collaborate together or find mindful moments to contemplate the world. This is great for their mental health and physical wellbeing, their ability to build positive relationships, it instills resilience, and shapes children into positive contributors to their communities. It’s great to watch children grow and evolve, and it’s a privilege to be part of it.
Our School Farm and Natural Play projects demonstrate the benefits of greenspace initiatives for children on an individual level, but also the positive impact the children can subsequently have on the wider community. The educational elements of both models provide children with an opportunity to learn how to care for, and enjoy their local greenspaces, and provide greater exposure to the natural world that they may not otherwise have had living in an urban area – whether that be through planting, harvesting, and tasting crops on the School Farm, or discovering and identifying wildlife and responsibly playing with natural loose materials during Natural Play Sessions. Children’s increased desire to be outdoors and engage in physical activity are obvious positive impacts of these initiatives, however the social, problem-solving, horticultural, and motor skills of children all stand to be developed by participation in projects like these, therefore we believe that they are essential to children and communities across Wester Hailes, as well as urban areas more generally.
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