LITERACY AND NUMERACY
More time in the garden?
Sir Michael Rake, chairman of BT, is the latest high-ranking industrialist to lament the fact that so many school-leavers lack fundamental literacy and numeracy skills that were once taken for granted by employers. Of 26,000 young people who applied to his company’s apprenticeship scheme this year, no fewer than 6,000 were ruled out because they couldn’t spell, or read and write properly. But maybe more time in the garden might help? Researchers at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) surveyed 1,300 school teachers and studied 10 schools in depth to examine the impact of school gardening on pupils.The Reports findings show that teachers who use gardening as part of learning report that it helps to improve children’s readiness to learn, and encourages them to become more active in solving problems. It also helps to boost children’s literacy and numeracy skills.
The report says: “Fundamental to the success of school gardens in stimulating a love of learning was their ability to translate sometimes dry academic subjects into practical, real world experiences. “Children were encouraged to get their hands dirty – in every sense. Teachers involved in the research said the result was a more active, inquisitive approach to learning.” It adds: “The changeable nature of gardening projects – where anything from the weather to plant disease can affect the outcome – forced children to become more flexible and better able to think on their feet and solve problems.” The researchers found that exposing small children to insects, such as worms, helped them to overcome their fears, while waiting for crops to grow teaches children patience. In 2007, the RHS campaign for School Gardening was launched to encourage schools to create gardens. There are currently 12,000 schools signed up to the Campaign, benefiting 2.5million pupils. Gillian Pugh, chair of the National Children’s Bureau and the Cambridge Primacy Review believes that gardening not only provides opportunities for increasing scientific knowledge and understanding: ‘It also improves literacy skills, numeracy and oracy, but as well as pupils’ confidence, resilience and self-esteem. The RHS believes that these skills can be learnt when gardening is used as a teaching, and not just an extra-curricular activity.