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Bearing fruit – what schools think of our Edible Playgrounds

Trees for Cities Edible Playground

In an age when so few of us grow our own food – or even see it being grown by someone else – knowledge about food origins doesn’t come naturally. This disconnect is borne out by research among schoolchildren: 33% of pupils in UK primary schools surveyed by the British Nutrition Foundation in 2013 thought that cheese came from plants, while 25% believed that fish fingers came from chicken or pigs. What’s more, the latest figures from Public Health England show that a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese.

The good news is that giving children opportunities to grow food at school can make a real difference to their knowledge and attitudes towards healthy food. Spending time around nature brings wider benefits too, boosting personal and social development.

To date we’ve created 50 Edible Playgrounds in city schools across the UK – from St Teresa of Lisieux Catholic Primary School in Liverpool to projects with three Food Flagship Schools in Croydon, London. These dynamic spaces are a fun way to teach children gardening skills, enrich food education, bring outdoor learning into the curriculum and deliver core lessons in new ways.

Yvonne Morris, Edible Playground Lead at Hitherfield Primary School in Lambeth says:

It’s a wonderful addition to the school and the children benefit emotionally and academically.

We have been featured as school of the month on the Jamie Oliver Kitchen Garden Project website and we received a certificate of participation from the Total Green Schools Award.

We have also taken part in the Heritage Seed Library pilot project.”

Over 90% of head teachers from the schools surveyed said their edible playground had increased their students’ gardening skills, their knowledge of the natural environment and food origins, and their willingness to eat fruits and vegetables. All primary and secondary schools have said they’d recommend the programme to other schools.

 

Typically, a child has a lesson in the playground once a fortnight although some schools are making this a weekly activity. All the primary schools have linked using their Edible Playground within the curriculum, with 100% using their edible plaground for maths and science lessons during the school day. English and art are popular choices too (92%), while 76% of schools use the edible playground for design and technology work. The playgrounds are also used for gardening clubs and at playtime.

It’s crucial that the children get to enjoy and take pride in the results of their new-found skills, so we asked schools to rank the most popular uses for their foods after harvesting. Here’s what they said:

  • Eaten straight out of the beds (92%)
  • Used for cookery lessons (85%)
  • Given to parents/taken home by students (62%)
  • Used in the school kitchen (54%)
  • Sold to parents and others at school events (46%)
  • Used by after-school cooking club (31%)
  • Given to school staff (31%)
  • Sold to groups outside of school (7%)

It’s a testament to the success of the playgrounds that they’re producing crops that children and their families can eat.

We also asked about the layout of the playgrounds and the broader features of the Edible Playground programme, all of which received very positive ratings. One school said:

Our playground is a sizeable space with a variety of growing spaces and areas to learn. It is well designed with plenty of opportunities for students to learn about how and when it is best to grow different types of food crops.”

6E-on-field

The school assemblies we ran to introduce the idea of Edible Playgrounds and consult with students were especially popular, with an average score of 9 (10 being the best). One school commented:

This was highly engaging for students and encouraged many of them to apply for the role of Food Ambassador. These are students who regularly go out to water, weed and maintain the plants in the Edible Playground.”

All schools rated the Edible Playground as having a significant impact on gardening skills for students. Head Teachers also commented on increased knowledge in other areas and shifts in behaviours. These included significant improvements in: Knowledge of the natural environment, knowledge of where food comes from, willingness to try fruits and vegetables, knowledge of science, positive attitudes towards healthy eating and social skills.

When it came to students’ responses, we were delighted to find that 70% gave the playgrounds a rating of 9.

PPD

Research by the RHS found that gardening in schools can help children to develop ‘a more resilient, confident and responsible approach to life’. Reflecting this, 70% of the schools we surveyed said the playgrounds have supported their work with special educational needs (SEN) students or those with challenging behaviour.

 

 

Our Therapeutic Gardening Course in the Edible Playground was very successful over the summer term. We also have two students with Autistic Spectrum disorders who are highly engaged and enthusiastic members of the Food Ambassador Team” Meridian High School

“It has a very calming effect on some pupils with significantly challenging behavioural difficulties” Rockmount Primary School

There’s increasing evidence of the ways in which outdoor learning and access to nature can boost children’s wellbeing. Our Edible Playgrounds are raising the profile of these vital experiences, and bringing their benefits to children across the UK.

We’ll be delivering another 12 projects this year. To find out more about the programme, please get in contact with the team here to support the programme, sign up as a regular donor