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Raising environmental awareness


  • Mapping the grounds and the garden site
  • Raising awareness of the ecosystem
  • Planning improvements in the school grounds

There is plenty to do before starting on the garden itself. Here are four actions for raising environmental awareness. It is best to undertake them early:


1. Mapping the grounds

Start by getting pupils to make sketch-maps of the whole school grounds - whatever they can manage for their age. Young children can do impressions, older lines pupils can make measurements and attempt realism (perhaps as part of their maths class). Make a sketch map yourself as well. A good map or picture sharpens the attention of those who make it, and will help in appeals, talks, explanations or grant applications. It can be presented to children, parents, sponsors, the garden group, the local authorities. It gives a basis for discussion about what needs doing and how much it will cost. It also boosts morale to have “before” pictures which can be contrasted with “after” pictures at the end of the year’s work.

The map should show all the main features of the grounds - for example, school buildings and facilities, trees and bushes, flowerpots, pathways, main roads, gateways, rubbish pits or bins, water supply, power lines. Label everything: this is a good learning exercise for pupils and helps outsiders to understand the map. Have children select which maps to display, and put copies in the Garden File.

The garden site If you have a choice of positions for the garden, mark possible sites for the garden, and use the map to discuss and decide where it should go. Ideally the garden should be:

Will all these be possible? If there is a choice, open up the debate on where to put the garden. Consult children, school staff, parents and expert gardeners.

2. Mapping and describing the garden site

Before starting major work, it’s also a good idea to make a full description of the proposed garden site, with a photo, drawing or sketch-map (students can usually do most of these), as suggested for the grounds as a whole in Part 4. The map should show the points of the compass and be labelled with appropriate information, as below.

Two garden sites

Notes on garden site: Goats eat plants. Fairly fertile soil, but never been cultivated: very hard. Needs plenty of organic matter. Plenty of water but has to be carried uphill.

Main work required: Clear ground of stones - keep stones for walls. Plough soil and dig in green manure. Bring water from river (handpump and pipe?). Fence in against goats.
Notes: Clay soil needs aerating/drainage/ humus. Just enough water for drinking and hand-washing - need extra for the garden.

Main work required: Keep bushes for afternoon shade. Find alternative water supply (harvest from roof?). Cultivate and enrich soil.

The map should show:

Pupils who have done the lessons Starting with soil and Soil quality (Part 3) will be able to add notes on the soil.


While the Garden Team is thinking about sites and amenities, it can take the lead in encouraging the school to look at the school grounds as a whole. Improving the grounds need not take a lot of effort, and it can generate environmental awareness, improve amenities, raise morale, involve the community and bring the school some good publicity. A positive approach to the whole school environment also creates a favourable atmosphere for developing the school garden itself.

Green Belt school
Gangadhar Bidyaniketan is a secondary school surrounded by paddy fields in eastern India. During the rainy season … students and teachers had to walk two kilometres in mud and water to reach the school. In the summer there was no water at all and children had to carry water bottles to school. There was not a single tree in the area. The school decided to make changes. Each student agreed to plant and care for one tree. Choosing the locations carefully, they created a green belt around the school. With the help of a local NGO the villagers built an approach road and a water tank on the school campus. The school now has plenty of drinking water and can use the surplus water for growing vegetables and flowers.… The land that was barren and saline is now green and colourful.
(Pattanaik, 1998)

Suggest to the school and the parent-teacher association that they think about priority projects for the school environment. The questions below can be discussed with pupils, school staff and parents, using the map of the school grounds for reference, and followed up with the lesson Ideas for the school grounds (see the end of this chapter).

Some possible “greening” projects are:

Greening the grounds

Note: Start the school thinking about improving its environment. But leave ambitious projects for the school grounds to others. A garden is quite enough to be getting on with!


Before starting major works in the garden itself, remember that your activities are going to interrupt an existing pattern of life. Nature’s garden is already established and working. Before you change this existing world by creating your own garden, get children to look closely at it (see lesson outlines Ecological audit, Garden citizens, Insects and others at the end of this chapter).

This will introduce pupils to the idea of ecosystems and interdependent systems of living things, and will help them to understand organic approaches to gardening. They will learn the valuable habit of making observations of insects, plants and earth, which can build up later into regular garden patrols. The results of these inspections can be added to the Garden File.


If you plan to use compost in your gardening, you will need to prepare your first compost heaps early (see Compost in Horticultural Notes and the two outline lessons on compost at the end of this chapter). Preparing compost reinforces children’s understanding of soil and the natural cycle of vegetation, introduces the idea of waste recycling and can begin to involve parents and families in making contributions to the garden. Decisions to make are whether you will have one big heap or several small ones, where you will put them, what you will use for compost and whether families can help.


Outputs: Maps of school grounds and garden site
Compost heaps

  • Make a display of studens’ maps, drawings and photographs of the grounds.
  • Make a “mud map” of the grounds, in the grounds, and let it dry out in the shade.
  • For inspiration, send for beautiful seed catalogues from seed compancies. Visit local gardens with students.
  • Appeal for contributions (material and labour) to the compost heap and organize children to bring material from home on a particular day of the week.
  • Get groups to “adopt” their own compost heaps and make signposts or flags for them.

ENTRY POINTS These lessons aim to raise children’s environmental awareness. They look closely at the existing ecosystem and the role of insects, introduce children to composting and the idea of waste recycling and raise ideas for improving the school grounds.

1. Ecological audit Looking at nature’s garden.

Objectives Pupils become aware of the existing ecosystem, its diversity and interdependence and recognize that it is a habitat for many forms of life.

Activities In the classroom, students imagine approaching the garden site from different points of view: (1) Flying. They are flying slowly over the site - what do they see? What kind of terrain? (2) Landing. They land near a particular plant. What is it? What does it live on? What lives on it? What does it produce? Does it give shelter? (3) Creeping. They “shrink” to beetle size. What is around them? What is going on? What lives here? What passes by? What food is there? (4) Burrowing. They burrow into the soil like worms. How does it feel? Who lives here? Who eats what?

Pupils then go into the garden, repeat the exercise, and report their observations.

(Adapted from Kiefer & Kemple, 1998)

2. Garden citizens Agriculture depends on insects.

Objectives Pupils recognize that most garden life is friendly, and start the habit of observing insects and other garden creatures.

Activities Pupils find and observe garden creatures and in class describe what they have seen. The teacher adds live examples or pictures of common “garden citizens”. Pupils say how they feel about each, and why. Class groups take on the roles of insects, other animals, plants and soil, and say how they link to other groups (e.g. We’re birds; we eat insects). The insects then “die” and the class discusses what would happen if there were no insects (e.g. hungry birds, no fruit, poor soil). Discuss how to have friendly insects in the garden (e.g. by growing flowering plants, including a weed patch, and not using insecticides). Follow with a Bug Hunt or study a clutch of insect eggs hatching on leaves in the classroom.

3. Insects and others Less than 1 percent of insects are dangerous to crops and many are beneficial.

Objectives Pupils identify particularly beneficial insects and common harmful pests

Activities Using real specimens or pictures, pupils identify the most common garden creatures, say what they know about them and speculate which are helpful, harmless or harmful. The teacher presents two “garden enemies” (e.g. slugs, aphids) and discusses what they do (chew or suck leaves or roots) and how we can see this (holes in leaves, plants wilting); then two “garden friends” (e.g. earthworms, ladybugs) which fertilize flowers, catch pests, turn garden waste into nutrients and open up the soil. Follow with a garden walkabout to spot garden friends and enemies or the signs of them; make a “Garden friends” poster or a Bug Book based on observations.

(See Beneficial garden creatures, Pests, in the appendix Horticultural Notes).

4. Compost Do this lesson in the garden before starting the compost heap.

Objectives Pupils learn to recognize compost and appreciate its value.

Activities The teacher introduces compost as plants’ favourite food and distributes handfuls to small groups. Pupils look, smell, feel, squeeze and say what they observe (brown, crumbly, damp, earthy, light). The teacher demonstrates planting a “happy plant”, showing how compost is added at various stages for various reasons. At the end, pupils chorus the answers to questions:

The teacher reads out a list of compost ingredients and pupils undertake to bring some from home for the compost heap.

(see Compost in Horticultural Notes appendix.)

5. Cooking compost This lesson prepares for compost making.

Objectives Pupils appreciate the value of compost, know how to make it and start to use it.

Activities Pupils recall the virtues of compost (gives nutrients; makes soil roomy and airy for roots to breathe and bacteria to work; holds water but also lets it run through; is natural and cheap). The teacher says making compost is like cooking: you need food, heat, air, water and a pot. S/he demonstrates by making a little compost in a bucket, talking through the process by asking questions about what to do next and why (see Making compost in Horticultural Notes). The class monitors the experimental compost, which will be ready in about two weeks. Fix a date for making the real compost heap, and ask pupils to bring contributions.

6. Ideas for the school grounds A practical lesson in environmental awareness.

Objectives Pupils make practical proposals for improving the school grounds and initiate action.

Activities The teacher presents several ideas to the class (see Section D above), with pictures or sketches if possible. Older students add their own ideas. The class goes into the grounds to size up the possibilities (older students work in groups, one for each idea, and report back). For each idea pupils consider relevant questions, e.g. Where will it be? How big? What will it be made of? The class makes the final decision and suggests the first practical steps to take and who is to take them.

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