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School Gardens - How To Involve Children In Setting Up The Garden

Jonathan Ya'akobi

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Working with children to set up a garden in their school is always a challenging project. From my experience of teaching horticulture to schoolchildren in Israel, the most critical factor behind a project's success is the extent to which they are involved mentally in all the various tasks that they will be performing.

The first important step is to hold a class, preferably a series of them, to explain the significance of each act and stage in the process. Admittedly, a lecture on soil fertility or weed control will probably bore the children to death, so it is advisable to adopt the Socratic method of asking questions and imparting the necessary information by means of the answers they themselves provide.

For example, when I ask what the plants require to grow and develop a shower of hands shoot up and answers such as “water" and “food" are proffered. “What about air?" I ask. “Oh yes they need that as well. " “How do the roots get access to oxygen? Is it absorbed by the leaves and then circulated down to the roots?" After they are reminded that this is of course not the case, the importance of adequate supplies of air in the soil is better understood. This puts such tasks as digging the soil and composting into context.

Soil tests

One of the best ways of grabbing the children's’ interest is to conduct a soil test. The process as a whole and the data gathered provide an authoritative basis for all that follows. The children, under the supervision of the science teacher, should be involved in collecting the samples to be sent to a laboratory, told of the type of information that is sort and how they will be acting on it. Data concerning the soil pH, (acid - alkaline scale) nutrient levels, soil salinity and presence of pathogens affect decisions as to fertilizing and soil improvements.

Design considerations

The workshop is a golden opportunity to explain something about the rules of design. It may be a good idea to enlist the services of the art teacher to explain the reason why particular combinations of plants are suitable and others not so. The most important thing is to make it clear that there is nothing capricious or personal in the choices that have been made.

When the work is being carried out, time should be allocated for questions and answers. It is an opportunity in fact to reiterate what was discussed in class, thereby clarifying the connection between the tasks themselves, and the reasons for them. Schoolchildren no less than adults, hate having things imposed on them. Telling and barking out instructions alienate them, while involving them in the mental processes involved, includes them properly in the project, with far more satisfactory results ensuing.

My name is Jonathan Ya'akobi.
I've been gardening in a professional capacity since 1984.
I am the former head gardener of the Jerusalem Botanical Garden, but now concentrate on building gardens for private home owners.
I also teach horticulture to students on training courses.
I'd love to help you get the very best from your garden, so you're welcome to visit me on


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