Young people spend most of their time in school, it is no wonder schools tend to serve as gateways through which children can be granted opportunities to get out into green spaces.
Evidence shows that outdoor learning is tremendous for health and well–being and sets them on a pathway to healthy, environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Schools also play an important role in educating children and young people about the importance of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, providing healthy and nutritious food choices and giving consistent health messages.
Encouraging children from an early age to eat fresh fruit and vegetables goes a long way to help them establish healthy choices and long term health. There is an abundance of well–documented evidence to demonstrate the positive link between a healthy, balanced diet and educational performance. Pupils who are eating a healthy meal have higher levels of concentration and are able to focus better during school. Over 166,000 children in Northern Ireland eat a school meal every day and therefore it is clear that schools have a responsibility to ensure these children are provided with nutritious meals.
Getting kids to grow fruit and vegetables is a great way to get them engaged in the natural environment and enthused about the importance of fresh and healthy food and how attainable this type of food really is. Growing food in schools has many wide reaching benefits: developing enterprise skills and providing practical experience, providing access to fresh, healthy foods, the opportunity to spend time outdoors and building community and team spirit among children. According to NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research (2011), food growing in schools has a positive impact on scientific knowledge, improved maths and language outcomes.
The existence of an onsite garden in the grounds of the school can be a great educational tool for pupils when it comes to engaging them in discussions about food and how it is grown. This type of interaction is a great way to get children engaged and interested in food and can result in an increased willingness to taste new types of food that pupils may not have tried in a normal setting.
In March 2015, the Belfast Food Network embarked upon a school engagement programme with 8 different primary schools in the Belfast area. P.5 and P.6 pupils were tasked with the job of designing a garden or growing space in their school where they could grow a range of fruit and vegetables as well as trees and flowers.
The project got the pupils out into the school grounds to scope out a site suitable for growing plants and food. The exercise paved the way for discussion about growing your own food and it encouraged the children to reconnect with the food that they eat and think about where it comes from and how it is grown, and the fact that it has come further than just the supermarket shelf.
The engagement programme was a big success and the pupils that participated thoroughly enjoyed this hands–on learning experience. It opened up discussion around sustainable food, food miles and the ecological footprint of our food as well as an establish an interest in organic food.
The garden designs were put on display in Urban
Soul in Belfast City centre, where the garden designs could be
viewed by the public. The children got a chance to use their
imagination and get creative with their gardening designs. We hope
that some of these designs can be turned into real growing spaces in the
Watch this space!