Edible Playgrounds is the schools programme run by National Charity Trees For Cities. They build wonderful growing areas in schools and support teachers to use them to get students outside and enrich the curriculum. They’re about to celebrate their 100th playground, so we thought we would help to celebrate this milestone by featuring them as a guest on our blog!
Green Schools Project have recently partnered with Edible Playgrounds and will be working with three of their schools over the next year, introducing our programme to support the schools to work on other environmental projects such as encouraging wildlife and energy saving.
100 Edible Playgrounds – 10 Years – Incorporating Food Growing Into The School Curriculum
Our 100th project delivery
This summer we’re celebrating our 100th Edible Playground. It’s a milestone for us as an organisation – one that we’re proud of – and it marks a good opportunity for us to look back and reflect on where we’ve come from and what’s been learnt along the way.
Back in 2009 we signed an agreement with our first Edible Playground flagship partner school: Rotherfield Primary in Islington. In the decade since, we’ve completed partnerships with schools in 12 towns and cities across the UK, involving around 2,700 teachers and impacting approximately 68,000 pupils.
So what has the response from our historic partners been? What benefits have those 100 Edible Playgrounds brought to school communities?
Impact on the school community
We run regular surveys with our partner schools, and it’s apparent that the programme really does help teachers to teach and children to learn. A laudable 91% of teachers surveyed said that their Edible Playground had a moderate to significant impact on pupils’ real life and practical learning opportunities.
Some typical feedback we’ve had about the programme is that: “It has given many children opportunities to fully take part with their class, which they are sometimes unable to do”.
Tracey Langridge, headteacher of Rockmount Primary School, told us in a recent conversation that: “One thing we noticed was the impact that spending more time in the garden had on our more challenging children. Timetabling them an extra slot in the garden and giving them time out with nature really had a massive impact on behaviour and making them calmer”.
Paul Jackson, headteacher at Manorfield, gave similar feedback: “The school was having low SATs results and poor behaviour and the Edible Playground gave us a focal point for overall school improvement. It had a huge impact on the children’s level of enthusiasm”.
These findings are unsurprising, with the Scottish government agreeing that: “Being outdoors can be a more relaxing learning experience for many learners”.
Mental health, particularly among children, has been a hot topic recently, with more research being conducted into the extent of the challenge. It’s extremely satisfying to know that 86% of the teachers we’ve surveyed told us that their Edible Playground has had a moderate to significant positive effect on pupils’ moods, self-esteem and mental health.
But what about the children’s responses? Their feedback is arguably one of the most powerful barometers for success and from what we’ve heard, it’s all been positive:
“I love spending time in the Edible Playground, especially when I’m stressed, as it’s the most tranquil place”. Hebe, Year 5 pupil, Rockmount Primary School.
“I like eating healthily because having a good diet helps me concentrate in lessons. If I just ate fatty or sugary things, I would be distracted from my work. I grow food at home and at school, which is very nice and relaxing”. Miranda, Year 5 pupil, Rockmount Primary School.
“The fresh air wakes me up!” Ahsanur, Year 5 pupil, Manorfield Primary School.
Speaking with teachers from historic projects has given a real insight into what works best for ensuring the success and sustainability of food growing programmes in schools.
One of the points that repeatedly cropped up is the priority of timetabling regular slots in the garden for each class. It has to be included in the teaching day, rather than solely used for playtimes or after school. We’ve found that when time in the garden isn’t timetabled, the crops tend to run to seed and spoil. It can then be demoralising to have a garden that looks as though it needs a lot of work. Little and often is best, both for the garden itself, and for the benefits the children will get from it.
Another point that is consistently mentioned is the importance of schools choosing an outdoor learning champion – somebody who holds responsibility for the garden. Roles and responsibilities should be written into job descriptions to ensure they outlive staff changes. Some schools have gone a step further and developed outdoor leads from each year group. There is even scope to include the SLT, governors, parents and certain children as well. The more people who shoulder responsibility, the more likely the project will work.
As we look towards the future, we have ambitious plans to expand the programme across the UK. In 2019/20 alone we are aiming to complete 50 projects – a big step up from the 30 of 2018/19 – across a number of towns and cities including Bradford, West Bromwich, Nottingham and Newcastle. With aims to become the go-to source for information about food growing in schools, we will continue to provide functional teacher-focused resources about how best to incorporate food growing into the curriculum. Check out our current resources, including curriculum guides, lesson plans and how-to guides, here.
We are currently working with the Green Schools Project and will partner alongside them with three schools from September. Founder of Green Schools Project, Henry Greenwood said they’re going to be: “helping the schools use the enthusiasm for the Edible Playground to work on other environmental projects such as energy saving, reducing air pollution and encouraging wildlife”.
Over the next few weeks, keep an eye out for the work we will be doing to celebrate our 100th Edible Playground. We have exciting plans to release some educational films and an impact report and we’re throwing a celebratory event at St Mark’s Primary School in Lambeth. We’ve also currently got a photography competition live. There are gardening vouchers up for grabs for schools that send us a photo showing what gardening means to them. Take a look here for more information.
 Figures are derived from pupil populations and teacher numbers from Gov.uk.