A change of scenery can make a big impact on wellbeing, and that goes for schools too. Regularly getting out of the classroom and capitalising on what nature has to teach can have a hugely positive impact on students, from academic success to self-esteem. In fact, the benefits of outdoor learning spreads out far further than the school building and can leave a lasting impact on student behaviour, wellbeing and environmental conscience.
a school garden increases enthusiasm for learning along with improved attendance and completion of homework
When outdoor learning is complimentary to the curriculum, it can have a number of school and academic benefits. In a recent Guardian article, a primary school garden was found to engage children in maths in which children could map and measure flower beds and produce charts and graphs measuring sprouting sunflowers. A school garden can be relevant to many subjects as it teaches children first-hand topics such as pollination, the life cycle and adaptation. In fact, the ‘Food Growing in Schools Taskforce’ report found that food growing in schools elevates children’s achievement across the curriculum, particularly in science, language skills, maths and food technology. And it’s not just specific subjects that benefit, the use of a school garden has also been shown to generally increase enthusiasm for learning along with improved attendance and completion of homework. That’s an enormous result for a mere fruit and vegetable patch!
Benefits for Teachers
Aside from the students, a school garden also has a positive effect on teachers. When learning outside the classroom walls, the teacher is enabled to broaden their range of teaching styles, having to adapt to new surroundings. Some schools even enlist the help of a gardener to help plan and assist outdoor lessons, giving the teacher the support of an expert green-fingered assistant.
Skills for Life
The benefits of outdoor learning are far greater than academic achievements however. The list of practical, real-world benefits is endless. Outdoor learning helps build important life skills such as team work, problem solving and communication. In growing food, students learn useful horticultural skills as well as cooking, for those schools who then take their vegetables in to the food technology class. More importantly, outdoor learning gives students another outlet in which to explore their talents, something particularly important for less academically-inclined children and those with barriers to learning.
Outdoor Learning and SEN
In many ways, children with special educational needs benefit the most from alternative learning environments like the school garden. Outdoor learning has been shown to relive stress and anxiety as well as aid the development of social skills outside of the classroom. Learning outside the classroom and interacting with nature also provides vital sensory stimulation, something particularly important when supporting students with ASD, for example. For those who struggle academically or suffer from behavioural issues, outdoor learning fosters a sense of independence and capability. The very structure of a school garden encourages inclusivity because it requires teamwork in order to work.
Outdoor learning encourages inclusivity because it requires teamwork in order to work
Health and Wellbeing
By far, the most significant impact of a school garden is the health and wellbeing benefits. Access to fresh air and outdoor spaces improves both physical and psychological wellbeing, including boosted self-esteem and confidence. The calming, stress-relieving aspects of outdoor learning has not only shown to improve behaviour but also encouraged working together as a team and cultivated a sense of responsibility in nurturing the plants. A school garden has been shown to have a positive impact on diet with students taking a greater responsibility for their health, teaching the importance of fruit and vegetables. The ‘Food Growing in Schools Taskforce’ reported that children with access to a school garden were “better able to recognise fruit and vegetables and were more willing to try new ones.”
Helping the Community
Some schools sell their produce to the community, not only offering the community access to affordable fresh fruit and veg but also strengthening school-community relationships and interaction. The effects of a school garden may take root in students’ learning but spreads wider than the school gates and can have a lasting impact on the wider community. The benefits of outdoor learning in school garden programmes are truly endless.
Changing the World
A school garden also teaches the student’s important lessons about where their food comes from and instilling an appreciation of natural produce. Having a strong understanding of healthy foods from a young age is massively important during current times of rising obesity while the wellbeing benefits are a positive respite during the current rise in youth mental health issues. The ‘Food Growing in Schools’ report found that students also showed enhanced environmental awareness and attitudes reflected in pro-environmental behaviours. In a wider sense, a school garden in every school could instil important beliefs and awareness of the environment from a young age, an issue so important during an unstable world of climate change and competition for natural resources.
a school garden in every school could instil important beliefs and environmental awareness from a young age