Upon being made Head of Science I looked at the resources I had inherited and immediately saw a gap in our curriculum. For a subject that is best learnt through “hands on activities” we had no real designated outdoor area in which to explore our topics. A previous headmaster had turned a beautiful wildlife area into a paddock for his horse, and this space linked to the school through a narrow walkway, was now the most underused part of our premises. Like most new heads of departments eager to make a mark on their subject, I threw myself into solving this problem and along the way discovered the process to be much more fulfilling and educational then I ever imagined.
The Senior Leadership Team were behind the project from the start and after gathering ideas from a range of sources a rough plan was created for the ‘Old Paddock’ to be transformed into the ‘Nature Garden’. Research I conducted suggested that the best way to ensure pupils engaged with the area was to give them ownership. So, one Saturday morning in early April the call was put out to staff, parents and pupils alike to bring their gardening gear and embark on a mammoth 3 hour clearing of the area. We had refreshments supplied by the school and a turn out of 50+ bodies to help cut back brambles, dig out vegetable patches, create bug hotels and paint recycled pallets of wood. The morning was a rip roaring success, with many of our initial goals achieved.
Ready to build upon our fine start we set up lunchtime Nature Club, which proved to be extremely popular. By chance a board member of our local Horticultural Society heard about our project and wanted to get involved. This led to two experts coming into the school and helping children to plant our first set of crops in our vegetable patch. This activity enabled us to build links within the local community and to get some expertise into what we were doing; further broadening the quality of education we delivered. Every child in the school was given the chance to plant a seed and it was particularly rewarding to see our Year 6 helping the Lower Nursery children – this activity gave our outgoing children the chance to develop their own leadership skills in a different context. We soon found ourselves integrating more with the local community when an old Poplar Marilandica tree was cut down on the grounds of the local church and we were given the opportunity of collecting off cuts from it. A staff team building exercise then took place as we came together to work out how to transport the heavy logs 1500m to the school grounds. It has since been turned into a table and chairs.
With the area beginning to take shape it has rejuvenated the teaching habitats our staff and new projects are springing up within the curriculum. The area has given the school grounds a new oasis, away from the hustle and bustle of school life. Our Nursery children delight in playing down there and we have installed a willow igloo and a Wendy house, which aids their creative play when they visit.
This past term the children have relished harvesting the sweet corn, pumpkins, marrows and ornamental gourds that they planted in the summer and these have been used to decorate our school through the summer to autumnal change. The area really has boosted hands on learning and we have many more exciting projects in the pipeline – not least how to solve the drainage issue of the pathway leading to the area, which our Year 6 Engineers are thoroughly enjoying tackling. We might be a little late to the school garden brigade, but if you have the space available, how much longer can you neglect what is such a brilliant and adaptable learning tool for young minds?