Gardening

Gardening as a specialist subject appears first in Class 6, and continues in Classes 7 and 8. The children have, however, been exposed to it from the very beginning, in the wider educational context of ‘learning through doing’. Gardening needs to be experienced as a realm with its own laws and complexities, skills and techniques. Active work with nature challenges the pupil to work with the cycle of the year, long periods between cause and effect, and to appreciate the scale of these natural processes. The children gather experiences into their feeling life, and engage practically with issues such as sustainability, food production, re-cycling and bio-degradability - laying the foundation for a practical sense of responsibility.

Method and content

In Class 3, with the main lesson focus on farming, building, measurement and weight the outdoor environment receives special focus.

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In Class 6, on the cusp of puberty, the children are experiencing a development of their muscular system that allows physical work to be done in a new way. Gardening offers the opportunity to ally this to their feeling of greater responsibility, and their understanding of nature, which has been cultivated since the early school years. The Class grows a garden based on vegetables they choose, into which they have integrated flowers and herbs. All the basic tool use and garden skills are learned: land preparation, seed sowing and transplanting, making different composts, plant identification, weeding and hoeing, care for the growing plants and harvesting.

Gardening also includes a substantial element of forestry work over the winter months, when pupils clear rhododendron bushes, practise coppicing and thin self-sown birch and sycamore, learning the tools and techniques associated with this. New trees are grown and planted on the estate to enhance and diversify the school woodlands.

In Class 7, these skills are practised further, and a new garden is planned and grown in the light of their experience. The pupils now raise large numbers of plants in the potting shed, and have a greenhouse for growing tender crops. They are introduced to the pruning and care of the fruit bushes, which they will harvest and enjoy. A greater emphasis is placed on independent work. The forestry work leads into the introduction of green wood work, where tool handles, gates, trellises and fencing are made.

Gardening can also support, experientially, a range of Middle School Main Lessons. These include the practical application in Class 5 of Botany; Geology and soil formation in Class 6; Chemistry (in composts), Astronomy (with the biodynamic sowing calendar), Nutrition (food), and the explorers (new food plants) in Classes 7 and 8.

In Class 8, the pupils have the opportunity to practise their skills in the collaborative design and creation of a new garden, based on flowers, and using only local materials. The pupils raise all the plants, and construct all the features according to their own ideas. The process is reviewed by the Class at the end of the year. In Class 8, the forestry work leads on to use of the pole lathe and wood turning. Firewood to heat the classroom is prepared.

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In the Upper School this links back to Class 3 as seen through the development of Class 9 projects, Class 10 work experience and Class 11 social practical.

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