How school farms are growing student engagement

According to a report in the Guardian, school farms boost learning and engagement across the curriculum and provide innovative ways to teach students about wellbeing and green issues…

When teachers at west London’s Phoenix High School decided to build a small vegetable plot in 2007, they had no idea that their modest garden would blossom into a three-quarter acre farm with chickens, rabbits and a 32-seat outdoor classroom.

“We decided to create not just a food growing space but a whole learning zone,” explains Garry McMillan, director of development at the White City secondary school. “This is not just about growing vegetables but looking at learning in a whole different way.”

There are more than 100 school farms now running in the UK and, according to the School Farms Network, 100 more are in the pipeline. McMillan claims the farm can be used to teach any subject, whether it’s crop rotation in geography, history of agriculture or geometry in maths. The practical element which the farm injects into lessons has resulted in students who have typically struggled academically engaging significantly more and flourishing in the classroom.

With a quarter of primary school leavers in the area considered obese, using the farm to educate children and the local community about healthy eating is a top priority for Phoenix. Primary schools and members of the community have been encouraged to get involved with the project and a full-time nutritionist was hired to educate under-11s about diet…

Understanding how our food arrives on our plates, from soil to market, is one of the key learning objectives at Ashley Primary School in Walton on Thames. The school’s farm began with just seven small beds for growing. Now the plot of land has expanded to include vegetable beds with potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli, a berry area featuring gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries, a fruit zone and a place to grow summer crops such as green beans and salads.

Each year group has been given responsibility for a different part of the farm, with their tasks linked to curriculum subjects. For example, while year 4 focus on berries to learn about the natural plants the Tudors once used as dyes, year 2 work with the bees to understand the importance of pollination and year 1 study wildflowers. The idea, headteacher Richard Dunne explains, is that by the end of their primary studies, children will have a more holistic understanding of the entire agricultural process.

Dunne says he wanted to really engage the students in a discussion of how food grows and sustainable farming by making them part of that whole process.

Through the farm, he adds, the students build a real connection and relationship with the world in which they live. If children don’t have this relationship, if they don’t feel the soil in their hands, then it really doesn’t matter to them. They won’t care where their food comes from…

More at: Crops to classrooms: how school farms are growing student engagement

Does your/your child’s school have its own farm or access to one? What are the best (and worst) things about it and what impact have you seen it having? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments or via Twitter…

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Comments

  1. Sherbs1

    Rustylink1 Have seen these working very well. Community farms with learning units very good. Locally, would need to be joint venture

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