14 SES 12 A, Family Schools Partnership and Outdoors Learning
Garden-based learning (GBL) is a form of experiential learning which can impact children’s academic outcomes (Lieberman and Hoody, 1998), health and wellbeing (Ohly, 2016) and social inclusion (Dyment and Bell, 2008). The school garden can be a foundation for integrated learning in and across disciplines (Desmond, 2004). Recent research in the UK and US highlights the impact of school gardening programmes on children's social, emotional and academic development (Williams and Dixon, 2013; Passy, 2014), as well as indicating a value for school gardens in connecting schools with the wider community (Passy, 2014). Schools' growing programmes can be of particular benefit in urban and disadvantaged areas, where access to green space is limited (Moss, 2012).
The primary aim of this study was to build a picture of the many ways school gardens are used and valued in Irish primary schools. I chose to focus my research on the direct experiences of teachers in schools that have and use a school garden, in order to answer the following research questions:
1. How do these schools use their school garden?
2. What are the factors that enable the garden to flourish in these schools?
3. Why do these schools value their school garden?
A qualitative approach, incorporating site visits and interviews with key drivers of school garden programmes, enables a detailed and colourful picture to emerge. Identifying the affordances that school gardens offer for the development and betterment of the school community offers a window to their valued position in the schools in the present study.
Several broad themes emerge from this study.
Gardens as places of connection:
Each of the participants spoke about the school garden as a place for children to connect with nature, to raise their awareness and understanding of their natural environment and thus, to begin to care for it. However, gardens also give children to connect with each other. Many of the teachers emphasised the role of the garden in the social development of the children. The garden naturally promotes social interaction and teamwork.
Gardens also facilitate the connections between school and home. Parents often play a central role in developing and maintaining the school garden. Children bring home fruit and vegetables that they have harvested in the garden. Grandparents are invited to participate in growing projects with the children. The learning goes both ways – parents often become interested in growing, or in developing their cookery skills, because their children are bringing home ideas or artefacts from school.
Gardens as places of joy:
Participants expressed how much everyone in the school community enjoyed and appreciated their school garden. The garden provides a break from the norm, a space to enjoy, where working is a pleasure.
Gardens as places of celebration:
Each of the schools in the study uses their garden to celebrate with the entire school community through Harvest celebrations. These are very much social occasions, with parents and school alumni involved, and members of the local community invited.
Gardens as places of healing, inclusion, equality:
Gardens are of particular value in helping children with special educational needs (SEN). Gardens are identified as inclusive spaces where children who may otherwise feel marginalised can participate fully. Gardens build bridges to the wider community, reaching out to local groups and voluntary organisations, encouraging them to come and use the garden.
Gardens as places of learning:
For the teachers in this study the academic value of their school gardens ranked below the other themes discussed above. However, there was plenty of evidence that the garden afforded experiential learning opportunities that were engaging, relevant and meaningful for the children.
The primary aim of this study was to build a picture of the many ways school gardens are used and valued in Irish primary schools. By probing the experiences, beliefs and values of the primary teachers in this study I hope to gain an insight into the value and benefit of school gardens from the teachers' perspective. In addition,drawing on the knowledge and experience of these teachers documents and highlights areas of good practice that will be of benefit to others. The insights gained here may help to inform other teachers, education professionals and policymakers in the future.The paradigm for this study is a pragmatic one. I am concerned to find out ‘what works’ about school gardens, and why they are valued in the schools that have them. The strategy of inquiry I have chosen most closely approximates the grounded theory approach (Corbin & Strauss, 2008, p.50). I hope to derive a general theory regarding the value and benefit of school gardens derived from the views of those individuals most closely involved with them. Constant comparison of data collected will allow common themes to emerge from the data without preconception. Ultimately, the aim is to uncover a pattern of why gardens are valued in schools that is grounded in information collected from the participants in the study. Using Creswell’s principles (2009, p.4), data were collected in the participants’ setting (the school and the garden), data analysis built inductively from particulars to general themes and included the researcher’s interpretation of the meaning of the data. This study focused on primary schools that (i) were situated within 50km of Dublin city centre, for ease of access, and (ii) had well-established school gardens (> 3 years old) that were (iii) actively used by the school community. A total of eight interviews were conducted with ten people across six schools. Interviewees were generally selected by the school principal as being staff members most actively involved with the school garden programme in their school. The constant comparative method was employed for data analysis. Dominant and recurrent themes were identified and combined to constitute categories of meaning and then re-evaluated. Findings are presented in line with conceptual themes from the literature review and data collection instruments.
There are a number of key findings from the current study: 1.Schools use their school gardens in a variety of imaginative ways to encourage children’s development across a broad range of areas. 2.There are a number of key factors driving the success of a school garden and enabling schools to meet and overcome associated challenges. Parental involvement is vital to the success of the garden, and community outreach and support are also central. 3.Teachers value their school gardens because they provide an arena for learning, space for pastoral care, a focus for school and community involvement and a source of pleasure for the entire school community. Passy (2014) describes the ‘ripple effect’ that a school garden can have throughout a school community and beyond. It is clear from the present study that school gardens do indeed have an impact on children, parents, teachers and the wider community. Gardens enrich school life and deepen the bonds between school and community. Teaching and learning in a school garden makes a valued and valuable contribution to children’s social, academic and personal development.
Bowker, R., & Tearle, P. (2007). Gardening as a learning environment: A study of children’s perceptions and understanding of school gardens as part of an international project. Learning Environments Research, 10(2), 83-100. Corbin, J. M., & Strauss, A. L. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (3rd ed.). Los Angeles, Calif: Sage Publications, Inc. Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). London: SAGE. Department for Education and Skills, UK. (2006). Learning outside the classroom manifesto. London: DfES. Desmond, D., Grieshop, J., & Subramaniam, A. (2004). Revisiting garden-based learning in basic education Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Dillon, J., Rickinson, M., Teamey, K., Morris, M., Choi, M. Y., Sanders, D., & Benefield, P. (2006). The value of outdoor learning: Evidence from research in the UK and elsewhere. School Science Review, 87(320), 107. Dyment, J. E., & Bell, A. C. (2008). ‘Our garden is colour blind, inclusive and warm’: Reflections on green school grounds and social inclusion. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 12(2), 169-183 Government of Ireland (2014). Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures; the national policy framework for children and young people 2014-2020. Dublin: The Stationery Office. Lieberman, G. A., & Hoody, L. L. (1998). Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the environment as an integrating context for learning. Executive Summary. State Education and Environmental Roundtable Report Malone, K. (2008). Every experience matters: An evidence based research report on the role of learning outside the classroom for children’s whole development from birth to eighteen years. Report commissioned by Farming and Countryside Education for UK Department Children, School and Families. Moss, S. (2012). Natural childhood. National Trust. Noddings, N. (2005). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education (2nd ed.) London: Teachers College Press. Ohly, H., Gentry, S., Wigglesworth, R., Bethel, A., Lovell, R., & Garside, R. (2016). A systematic review of the health and well-being impacts of school gardening: Synthesis of quantitative and qualitative evidence. BMC Public Health, 16, 286. Passy, R. (2014). School gardens: Teaching and learning outside the front door. Education 3-13, 42(1), 23-38 Williams, D. R., & Dixon, P. S. (2013). Impact of garden-based learning on academic outcomes in schools: Synthesis of research between 1990 and 2010. Review of Educational Research, 83(2), 211-235.
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