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Growing veg with a Primary school

IMG_1346Butterfly gardenHiRes

As a volunteer for Butterfly Conservation and the North Wales Wildlife Trust, I have designed and planted many school wildlife gardens in my locality over 10 years or more, with varying degrees of success. But how do you measure ‘success’? Is it about continuity of habitat and species conservation; is it about continuity of the childrens’ experience from year to year, or can it actually be counted a success if on just one day you have woken up one child to the possibilities of nature, gardening and wildlife? Even if your school garden project doesn’t get watered, gets vandalised, gets overgrown with brambles by next year; it can still be worth doing for the children who will become interested in the idea later in life, from the one lesson they had with you about it.
Motivation; some school heads will not be very keen on the idea of a wildlife garden as they cannot see right away how that would advance their National Curriculum and league table goals. But growing vegetables is very much in the news just now, and many teachers are more interested in that than in wildlife. It is easy to see how modules on how plants grow, healthy eating etc. can be covered. However, you can also bring an appreciation and study of wildlife and the natural environment into growing vegetables. There is a great scheme for your school achieving a ‘Green Flag’ that will enhance its reputation – see
http://www.eco-schools.org.uk/

Here are my lesson plans for growing vegetables as well as looking at wildlife in a local school in 2014; I did most of the things described, but not all. You can take however many ideas you like or have time for – but the songs were the most popular! The school I did this project at had had raised beds made by a local company as part of their contribution to the local community. These turned out to be very good as they were just the right height for the smaller children to be able to reach into, but raised enough so that they did not step on the plants they were growing. The Head wanted the entire school involved, so I did one hour with each class over two days in March. I planned to take more full lessons but the school schedule would not allow that (they had an OFSTED inspection that term too – but I think the veggie project helped!) So not all the details in the plan actually happened, often I had to do short things like adding the worms, during a morning break. And the Head did not want to do the Stone Soup play or let me make the vegetable soup at the end of term. Some of the children told me they had not tasted any of the vegetables because they had been sold for school funds. This was a shame, I felt; one of the main aims should have been to get kids trying new vegetables – I know growing their own got my kids to try new tastes they would never do otherwise. But the talk at the beginning with the basket full of vegetables, and the songs while planting out the seeds were the most successful parts for me and the children.
Primary School Vegetable Garden project;
AIMS;

1. National Curriculum Science Key stages 1 to 6. Topics covered include; plant growth, minibeasts, climate, life cycle of the butterfly, healthy eating, ( others….?)
(It is useful to ask the class teacher(s) for their input re. what topics they need to satisfy Nat. Curriculum for their age groups)
2. Healthy eating; why we need vegetables; vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein; the five food groups. Preparing and cooking vegetables
3.Link to biodiversity and the natural world; minibeasts found in the soil, life cycle of earthworm, what soil is made of, food chains, disease, contamination; Pollination – life cycle of the butterfly and how different bees live.
LESSON PLANS
First Lesson, early March;
Stone Soup cover002
1. Read the story ‘Stone Soup’ with the class –on whiteboard as a PPP. You can also get a book and CD with the songs for a school musical based on the story – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAlnsfBj3eg
Ask children for suggestions for vegetables we could grow to make our own ‘Stone Soup’; write their suggestions on a flip-chart or the board; then talk about our climate and which we could grow to crop before the end of the summer term. (in the UK, I found the best options were; First early potatoes, onions, garlic, peas, Broad beans, carrots, raddish, lettuce, spinach and herbs (also strawberries)
2. Bring in some vegetables bought at the supermarket or have in my garden now; onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, frozen peas, green beans, broccoli, bunch of chard/ spinach and Brussels Sprout stem from my garden; which of these are good for vitamins, fibre, starch, minerals, etc. (mention anti-oxidants?)
How is it I can buy lots of fruit and veg in the shop that it is too cold to be growing here now?

3. We can eat different parts of these plants – which of these are mainly grown for leaves, roots,flowers, fruits or seeds? Herbs – plants; mint, sage, Bay ; seeds; parsley, chives
Show the seeds for these different plants and talk about structure of seeds and how they grow. (needs for germination; temperature, water, growing medium, light)
4. Practical task; different groups of children take a different vegetable and its seeds. (You can collect packets of old seed from your own store or friends – it does not matter if they are all viable, but that each child has seeds to handle and to plant. With a class of over 30 pupils it will be unlikely that you will have enough space if all the seeds grow!) They can sow seeds direct outside in March, in most parts of the UK; or use plastic plug trays of compost to germinate on the windowsill, or with eg. Broad Beans, put kitchen towel/blotting paper into a glass jar, wet it and slide 4 beans down the side between the paper and glass to watch how it grows. Remind them to check for water every day.
5. Go to the allocated outside seed bed, take our class’s seeds and dig in compost and chicken manure pellets. Put measuring cane across the end of the bed and take turns to put in your seed(s) while singing the song.
(Does the school have spades, trowels, watering cans and gloves? (the close fitting latex gloves are MUCH better than small gardening gloves which get in the way too much.)
Take; measuring cane marked in cms planting distances (in practice this went by the board! The kids were just eager to get sowing – and in the end it made little difference to the harvest and the density of planting meant there were very few weeds), compost, chicken manure, trowels, spade, little watering cans,
One hour each lesson;
Nursery and Reception (3 to 5 years)
34 pupils (half morning and half afternoon for nursery)
Potatoes (big enough for them to handle without losing small seed) planted in large rectangular bed (do action rhyme ‘One potato, Two potatoes, three potatoes, four; Five potatoes, six potatoes, seven potatoes, More!)
They just loved digging a hole and throwing a seed-potato in; after covering the seeds up I asked ‘And what is the last thing we have to do now?’ (meaning watering) – and a five-year old boy solemnly intoned ‘Now we must wait’ – pretty good for one so young! But delayed gratification is one of the things young children can also learn from this project.

Year 1 (5-6 years old) 22 pupils
Onions –draw round their onion sets in class book before planting. Sing the song;

I’m a Little Onion
(to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”)
I’m a little onion set,
Brown and fat,
I’ve got a flat bottom,
And a pointy little hat.
Plant me in the earth,
Give me water and sun,
I’ll grow to be a big onion
While you have fun!

Year 2 (6-7 years old)
Peas (sing song ‘Oats, peas beans and barley grow’, and Strawberries
when harvesting say;
Five Little Peas
Five little peas in a pea-pod pressed,
One grew , two grew, and so did all the rest;
They grew…and grew…and did not stop,
Until one day the pod went…POP!

Year 3 & 4 ( 7-8 years old)
Broad Beans , spinach – put some beans down the side of jars/plastic bottles? With wet kitchen towel
Then plant rest outside. (sing song ‘Oats, peas beans and barley grow’)

Year 5 &6 (9,10,11 years old) They had the small triangular bed plus 7 Tubs outside classroom;
Broad Beans , carrots, herbs, salads, – put some beans down the side of jars/plastic bottles? With wet kitchen towel
Then plant rest outside. (sing song ‘Oats, peas beans and barley grow’)
And sow carrots to the song;
Little Brown Seeds
Little brown seeds so small to be found,
Are sleeping quietly under ground.
Down come the raindrops
sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle.
Out comes the sun,
twinkle, twinkle, twinkle.
Little brown seeds way down below,
Up through the earth they grow, grow, grow.
Little green leaves come up day by day,
The roots grow into carrots that have vitamin A.
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TUBS;IMG_1355veggie bags for sale
1. Salad crops; lettuce, radish,
2. cress, carrots
3. Herbs – plants; mint, sage, Bay ;
4. Herbs; seeds; parsley, chives
5. Wigwam with peas to climb up (plus sweet peas?)
6. Strawberries
7. Rainbow chard
Popeye’s song
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man
I’m strong to the finish
Cos I eats me spinach
I’m Popeye the Sailor Man

Recommended Story Books to aid vegetable gardening project (these can be scanned into the computer and displayed on the classroom whiteboard);

Stone Soup (traditional tale, but a nice version for young children is published by Child’s Play and illustrated by Jess Stockham ISBN 978-1-84643-021-3)
Eddie’s Garden and how to make things grow by Sarah Garland, ISBN 978-1-84507-089-2
Large format, few words per page, nice step by step pictures of how plants grow.
George and Flora’s Secret Garden by Jo Elworthy and LeyHonor Roberts, ISBN 978-1-905-81137-3
A really inspiring large format book about how older children (6 to 10) grew vegetables and fruit with their grandfather throughout the year and made a picnic at the end of summer for their mum and new baby sister.

Second lesson (2 weeks later? One month?)
1. Look at how our seeds have grown; (we can dig up one to see how much root there is) – the children could keep a weekly record of how tall their seedlings have grown (measure against a ruler) . Classes with Broad beans in jars could draw the root and shoot coming out in their books.
(Later in the year we could draw a graph on the board of all outdoor veg beds and see which have grown the fastest, biggest or not at all. )
2. Make labels for the garden using large wooden spoons – they can draw or paint a picture of the veg on the bowl of the spoon and write its name over the top. The handle of the spoon sticks in the soil at the top of the row. (this wold be a good activity for any of our lessons when the weather is too bad to go outside – we could have temporary small plastic labels in the rows meantime)
3. Dig fertiliser into our deep beds. Look at the creatures we find in the soil. Add worms from home wormery and talk about importance of organic matter and creatures that break it down in the soil for use by our vegetable plants. (You can get mobile phone aps to identify all kinds of wildlife.)
4. Plant out those seedlings that are big enough to go outside now and put our labels in. (might need to be nailed to the side of the deep bed if they might attract other children to pull them out?) give responsibility to a rota of children to water them if dry weather.
5. Start a class big book about how our vegetables grow – including the children’s drawings, graphs, observations and photos (Take photos in lesson 1 of seed-sowing. etc.). If you scan the record in they could each have a copy at the end of the year on a CD? Or they could each have their own exercise book (including plain pages) so they can have individual records, including their own drawings and photos printed off the computer, to show to parents and to keep themselves. Or it could be all done on their own laptops, tablets if they have them.
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Adding worms brought in from wormery compost bin. (You can get these bins, or just buy the worms, from www.wigglywigglers.co.uk ) Talk to the children about why we need animals and fungi in the soil to release nutrients from the organic matter.

Third Lesson (2 weeks, one month later?)
1. Look at how our plants have grown – measure the difference in height since we started. (If some seeds have failed entirely I can bring in seedling plants from B&Q. or my own garden) We can pull one or two of them up to see how the roots have grown – talk about nitrogen-fixing nodules on the peas and beans.
2. Pull out weeds – what are weeds? Why don’t we want them here?
3. Read another story together about growing vegetables like ‘The Enormous Turnip’(traditional tale) or ‘George and Flora’s Secret Garden’ by J. Elworthy
4. Write some more entries for our big class book about the project.
Fourth lesson – June
1.Look at how much our plants have grown; add data to the graph.
2. If the plants are in flower, look at which insects are attracted to them and talk about pollination.
we may even be able to harvest some things already and try eating them.
3. Look at the life cycle of the cabbage white butterfly; make a dial of the cycle (see templates and activity sheets on www.7wells.co.uk ) and learn the song about it.
Fifth Lesson – mid-late July (as the school in this case was down by the coast and we had a very warm spring and summer, the school actually started harvesting much earlier, and put the vegetables on sale to parents .)
1. Harvest! Measure how much they have grown. Weigh the crop eg. of potatoes
2. Make our own ‘Stone Soup’ and act out the story, ending up by eating the soup. (Does the school have cooking facilities the children can use? Should we ask parents to come in and help supervise for safety reasons?)

The School garden Scrapbook was displayed in Foyer; Glan Aber scrapbook2014002
Wooden spoons and marker pens make good labels (though you may need to nail them into the side of the bed in case some kids take them out later)
We also made a Butterfly and other Pollinators bed. First crops were shown on school website. Densely planted peas meant no staking really needed and no weeds. Broad Beans, onions and peas easy to pick. The children from each class in the school ‘Eco-council’ picked and bagged the veg as they were ready and sold them at home time to parents at 50p per bag.

Problems to think about;
Very often the main problem with a school garden is not the funding, preparation work or the planting that is difficult, but the maintenance afterwards. Bear in mind that there will often be no-one there to water, harvest or see the plants from the end of July until the beginning of September (in the UK). This should dictate which plants you choose as there is no point growing vegetables and flowers that the children are not going to see, also there are not many plants you would wish to grow that can cope with long periods of drought.
Long term maintenance is even more of a problem. Going back to visit some of my school gardens after a couple of years can be depressing. Either the teacher who was the main driving force has moved elsewhere, the Head did not prioritise using the garden, other teachers did not have the enthusiasm or background knowledge to help them make use of the garden, or even in one crazy case, the garden was so successful (in attracting a protected species – Great Crested newt) that the Council Biodiversity officer declared it out of bounds to the school staff and children! The teacher booked a coach trip to the nearest nature reserve (over half an hour away) to take the children pond-dipping because they were not allowed to use their own school pond! (we did find a way round this in the end- one of the teachers has to apply for a Great Crested Newt handling licence every year.)
And the gardens can get badly overgrown in one season if no-one looks after it; often the contractors employed to make the garden had just strimmed back brambles at the edge of a playing field – I could see new bramble and nettle shoots sprouting up as we planted our new garden. Of course they easily took over again by the end of the year if no teacher or parent was vigilant. Laying down a water-permeable membrane can help to control this.
Another problem is ponds – most people who want to encourage wildlife want a pond; but in school grounds this makes staff and parents very nervous about young children accidentally drowning, with good reason. So what tends to happen, if you insist on a pond, is that the school insists the whole wildlife garden be fenced off with a locked gate. And no children are allowed in it without supervision. Many of the ponds that contractors had been paid to make with butyl liners had been deliberately punctured later. One school I went back to after a couple of years had even lost the key to the gate padlock – so you can guess how much use they had made of the garden – but then maybe the wildlife had been left in peace to use that habitat for a while?
I think it would be far more useful from an educational point of view to have an unfenced wildlife garden that children can wander round, play in and observe and even record creatures and plants in their lunchbreak (using laminated charts that can be kept in the foyer). It doesn’t matter if they break a new pathway through the plants, as one teacher complained to me – at least the kids have been using it! And having just a boggy area (also with a butyl liner) or a small raised pond in a container, perhaps with a plastic or metal grid over the top, would make it safer.

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SONGS to go with lessons;

My Garden
This is my garden, I’ll plant it with care,
Here are the seeds I’ll plant in there,
The sun will shine,
The rain will fall,
The seeds will sprout and grow up tall.

A Seed Needs To the tune of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”
I see you are a seed,
Tell me what do you need,
I need some soil to grow,
And then the sun to glow,
Water to make me wet,
Air for my leaves to get,
Space for my roots to spread,
Now I’m a/some (herb, lettuce, Spinach ….)

The Little Plant
In the heart of a seed,
Buried deep so deep,
A tiny plant
Lay fast asleep.
“Wake,” said the sunshine,
“And creep to the light.”
“Wake,” said the voice
Of the raindrops bright.

The little plant heard
And it rose to see,
What the wonderful,
Outside world might be.

Carrot Seeds
Little brown seeds so small to be found,
Are sleeping quietly under ground.
Down come the raindrops
sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle.
Out comes the sun,
twinkle, twinkle, twinkle.
Little brown seeds way down below,
Up through the earth they grow, grow, grow.
Little green leaves come up day by day,
The roots grow into carrots that have vitamin A.
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Package of Seeds
They can’t see their pictures,
they can’t read the label —
the seeds in a package —
so how are they able
to know if they’re daisies
or greens for the table?
It sounds like a fancy,
it sounds like a fable,
but you do the sowing,
the weeding, the hoeing,
and they’ll do the knowing
of how to be growing.

Five Little Peas
Five little peas in a pea-pod pressed,
One grew , two grew, and so did all the rest;
They grew…and grew…and did not stop,
Until one day the pod went…POP!

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Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow
Chorus

Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow,
Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow,
Do you, I, or anyone know how
Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow?

First the farmer sows his seed,
Then he stands and takes his ease,
He stamps his feet,
And claps his hands,
And turns around to view his land.
Chorus
Then the farmer waters the ground,
Watches the sunshine all around,
He stamps his feet,
And claps his hands,
And turns around to view his land.
Chorus

Seeds
A little seed for me to sow
A little earth to make it grow
A little hole, a little pat,
A little wish, and that is that,
A little sun, a little shower.
A little while –
And then, a flower!

I’m a Little Onion
(to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”)
I’m a little onion set,
Brown and fat,
I’ve got a flat bottom,
And a pointy little hat.
Plant me in the earth,
Give me water and sun,
I’ll grow to be a big onion
While you have fun!

What Makes a Garden Grow, Grow, Grow
What makes a garden grow, grow, grow?
(Measure from floor with hand at three levels)
Lots of work with a rake and hoe,
(Pretend to rake and hoe)
Seeds gently planted in a row —
(pretend to plant seeds with thumb and index finger together)
That makes a garden grow, grow, grow.
(Measure from floor with hand at three levels)
What brings the seedlings up from the ground?
(With palms up, close to floor, measure at three levels)
Rain from the sky coming down, down,
(Raise hands high and flutter fingers down, down, down)
Bright yellow sunbeams shining round.
(Make arms into big circle overhead)
Help bring the seedlings up from the ground.
(With palms up, close to floor measure at three levels.)
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The Gardener Plants the Seeds
(can be sung to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell)
The gardener plants the seeds.
The gardener plants the seeds.
High ho the derry oh,
The gardener plants the seeds.
2nd verse: The rain falls on the ground.
3rd verse: The sun shines bright and warm.
4th verse: The seeds begin to grow.
5th verse: Flowers grow everywhere.
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I Will Plant a Garden
(to the tune of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”)
I will plant a garden green,
Then I’ll watch it grow.
I’ll dig some holes here in the soil,
In a nice straight row.
With a dig-dig here,
And a dig-dig there,
Here a dig, there a dig,
Everywhere a dig-dig,
I will plant a garden green,
Then I’ll watch it grow.

I will plant a garden green,
Then I’ll watch it grow.
In the hole I’ll drop a seed,
Then each seed I’ll sow.
With a drop-drop here,
And a drop-drop there,
Here a drop, there a drop,
Everywhere a drop-drop,
I will plant a garden green,
Then I’ll watch it grow.

I will plant a garden green,
Then I’ll watch it grow.
I’ll water each plant one by one,
They’ll sprout up in a row.
With a squirt-squirt here,
And a squirt-squirt there,
Here a squirt, there a squirt,
Everywhere a squirt-squirt,
I will plant a garden green,
Then I’ll watch it grow.
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Seeds
Seeds are funny, funny things,
Some have stickers
Some have wings
Some are big
Some are small
Some round and flat
Some like a ball.
Some are hidden inside of fruit
Some in pods or underground roots.
Some seeds are foods
And good to eat,
Like corn or beans
Or nuts for a treat.
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5 Comments

  1. A wonderful scheme to get children involved in growing vegetables. A whole generation has missed out on learning these skills so these youngsters have not had this knowledge passed down from their parents, as my generation did. Growing is a wondrous experience for children and the skills are best learned young. Whatever route these children take in life they will always have this remembrance and many of them will continue to use it. Great stuff, Jan, keep going and keep us informed!

    • Interesting what you say – some of the kids had never seen a raw potato before and did not know that’s where chips come from!
      Thanks
      Jan

  2. Big help, big help. And sualerptive news of course.

  3. Ruth Williams

    Fabulous lesson plans Jan. I will definitely draw upon these for our Eco-Club at school next term. Especially the songs! Just what I needed – thank you for sharing.

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