Setting up and running a school garden - Teaching ToolKit

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For environmental awareness, before preparing the site:
  1. Ecological audit
  2. Garden citizens
  3. Insects and others

To get started with organic gardening:

  1. Compost
  2. Cooking compost
  3. Ideas for the school grounds


The lessons in Set B aim to raise learners environmental awareness at an early stage. A lot can be learned before planting time, especially if the garden is still to be established. Lessons 1 to 3 build an awareness of the ecosystem, the existing life of the garden site, look at the role of insects and other "garden citizens" and lay the basis for later lessons on integrated pest control. Lessons 4 and 5 introduce learners to composting and waste recycling. Lesson 6 raises ideas for improving the school grounds.


Adapted from Kiefer and Kemple (1998)

The garden site is already an ecosystem. Soil, plants, insects, birds, all interact and depend on each other. The plants may change, but the system remains. This lesson prepares learners to understand the system as a whole so that they can work with it. It should be done before starting work on preparing the site. Older learners will need a double lesson.



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


For older learners:

- four sheets of poster paper
- field guides if possible (e.g. books about local birds, wild plants, insects, animal tracks)


To prepare for the lesson, learners look around the school garden site and memorise it (suggest they take a "mental photograph"). If possible, invite an agricultural extension agent or a biologist to visit.


1. Lead-in Say we are going to take a journey through the garden site to see what is happening there.

First we will do it in imagination, then in reality.

a) Flying: The big picture Learners imagine they are flying slowly over the site like birds. What terrain do they see? (e.g. meadow, scrub, dry grass, thorn bushes) What colours? What shapes?

b) Landing: One plant Learners imagine they see a particular plant and decide to land on or near to it. What is it? What does it live on? What does it produce? What lives on it? Does it give shelter?

c) Creeping: Ground level Learners "shrink" to beetle size. What plants are around them? What is going on? Who lives here? What passes by? What food is there? What eats it?

d) Burrowing: Underground Learners imagine they are burrowing into the soil like worms.
How does it feel? (soft? dry?) Who lives here? Whats happening around? What eats what?
Adapted from Kiefer and Kemple (1998)

2. Observation With younger learners: Repeat the exercise in the garden, getting feedback at each stage, then conclude the lesson.

With older learners:

a) In class, learners prepare "observation sheets" for each observation stage (see Guide A). Pin them round the room.

b) Learners copy the sheets into their notebooks, leaving room for field observations.

c) Learners choose their own small groups of two or four (one or two sheets each).

d) Take the class to the garden site and help them with their observations. If possible bring in a biologist who can explain the highlights of the habitat.

3. How does it all fit? Get feedback from learners. Ask what they saw and write up what they say about animals and insects, plants, terrain and other things (as in Guide B). Ask: What things go together?
(e.g. ants carrying leaves, birds eating seeds, pods rotting in soil). Bring together learners observations in a "garden web" on the board or on a poster. Learners draw lines to make the connections they have seen, as in Guide B, and suggest others.


Learners press plants found on site (Guide C) and make a wild plant book.


Environment Eco-systems and habitats.






spiders webs on the bark of a tree,
ants carrying away seeds,
a lot of plants growing around the tap.



insect eggs on a leaf,
lichen on the wall,
a dead beetle in the sand.


Put plants between newspaper.

Press plants for 3 to 4 days.

Glue the pressed plants into a Plant Book.

Write all you know about the plant.



Less than 1% of insects are dangerous to crops. Most, such as spiders and bees, are beneficial and many more are harmless. Learners should know that most garden life is friendly and that using pesticides can do more harm than good. N.B. It is useful for learners to know something about the life-cycle of insects before doing this lesson (see Guide A).



- start the practice of observing insects and other garden creatures
- recognize that most garden creatures are friends, not enemies.


- "garden citizen" cards (see Preparation)
- some blank cards


- Learners prepare for the class by looking for "garden citizens" and come to class able to name or describe two. They can also bring specimens to class, dead or alive. Older learners find out local gardeners opinions.
- Select five or six "garden citizens" well known in your area (e.g. moth, beetle, mite, bee, butterfly, wasp, caterpillar/grub, hopper, snail, slug, frog, centipede, spider, ant, worm, lizard). They should include at least one that is "beneficial", one "harmful" and one "harmless". Sketch them on cards, or get learners to do so, with a description on the back of the card. These are the "garden citizen" cards.


1. Lead-in Learners name, describe (and possibly show) garden creatures and say what they were doing when observed. Show warm approval of close observation. Pass round "garden citizen" cards. Ask if learners recognize them and what they are called.

2. Feelings

a) Ask how learners feel about each creature. Allow free responses, including negative ones.

b) Ask what we should do about these creatures - keep them or kill them? Again, allow free responses: we must know what learners believe. Start to introduce the idea of helpful creatures and harmful creatures, to be followed up in the next lesson.

3. Garden web (for older learners) Focus on insects: what do they have to do with the garden?

a) Turn the classroom into a "garden". Divide the class into four groups: INSECTS, OTHER ANIMALS, PLANTS & FLOWERS, SOIL.

b) Ask groups to say how insects are connected to other groups (e.g. Were birds; birds eat insects) and to each other. (Some ideas are given in Guide B.)

c) Ask the INSECT group to "die" (sit down or put their heads down). Discuss what would happen if there were no insects (e.g. no birds, no fruit, poor soil). Learners should draw the conclusion that insects are essential to life and we must make sure that they have room to live.


1. Bug hunt (homework) Learners try to spot all the creatures named in class and say where they saw them. Older learners can draw up a table.

2. Study specimens To catch live specimens, learners make a paper box with breathing holes, or use half a plastic drink bottle, with a cloth cover fastened with a rubber band. They put the specimen in the box with a bit of its own leaf, using a small stick in case it bites. They draw it, observe it for a day and write a log, then release it.

3. Study insects in class Offer a prize for a clutch of insect eggs and the leaves the eggs were found on (their favourite food). Watch them hatch into caterpillars, eat, turn into chrysalises etc. Try silkworms: they are large and spectacular.


Biology Pollination, life cycle of insects







Insects are vital to plant life. Its important to counteract the idea that it is good to use insecticides indiscriminately. Children should recognize that insects are not all the same.


Learners identify particularly beneficial insects and common harmful pests.


If possible, use real specimens collected in clear plastic bags or on pins. If not, use "Garden Citizen" cards (see Lesson 2) showing common local garden creatures - beneficial and harmless ones as well as dangerous pests.


Check with a local expert which common local garden creatures are dangerous, which are beneficial and which are harmless.


1. Lead-in Recall the garden creatures mentioned in the previous lesson. Hold up picture cards (or real specimens) and ask for some information about each one. Make sure everyone knows most of the creatures by sight.

2. Friends and enemies Some of these are friends, some are dangerous enemies and some are harmless. Emphasize that (as in any school or village) there are only a few really dangerous ones. Can they say which creatures they are?

a) Present two "garden enemies" (e.g. slugs, aphids). What do they do? (chew or suck the leaves or roots). How can we see this? (holes in leaves, plants wilting or falling over).

b) Present two "garden friends" (e.g. earthworms and ladybugs). What do they do? (fertilise flowers, catch pests, turn garden waste into nutrients, open up soil).

c) Older learners discuss and separate the remaining cards or specimens into friends and enemies, calling on their own knowledge and the Guides where appropriate.

3. Garden walkabout Walk around the garden with the class. Learners pick out garden friends and enemies or the signs of them, look at what they are doing, and where.


Some more ways of raising awareness of garden creatures are:

1. Bug Diary Teams keep a Bug Diary for a week.

They record insects seen, where they were, how many there were and what they were doing. This can lead into a regular pest patrol (see Lesson F7 Keeping the garden healthy).

2. Posters Make two posters entitled "Garden Friends" and "Garden Enemies". Learners practise explaining them to visitors. Note: Insects names are often different from place to place. Older learners can research different local names and add them to the posters.

3. Asking the experts Invite gardening experts to talk (or be interviewed) about common local pests and beneficial creatures. They should describe their life cycles, what they do to plants, and how to combat or encourage them. Highlight the need for pictures and practical demonstrations.

4. Insect collection Kill off your specimens (a drop of alcohol is quick) and make an insect collection. Or use drawings and observations to make a Bug Book like the one on predators (see Lesson C4 Protecting the garden).


Environment Food chain



Ground beetles

Soldier beetles


Lacewing fly



Assassin bugs



Praying mantis




Ground beetles






Shield bugs

NOTE There is further information about these garden creatures in the Horticultural Notes in the School Garden Manual, under "Beneficial garden creatures" and "Pests".



Compost, "brown gold", is at the heart of good gardening. Catch learners interest and form the compost habit when they are young! Do this lesson in the garden before you start the compost heap.



- recognize compost
- appreciate the value of compost
- know how to use compost.


- some mature compost in a bag
- newspaper
- a plant
- a hole or a plant pot for planting the plant
- some soil
- pebbles
- water
- some compost ingredients


Collect some compost ingredients (see Guide).


1. Brown gold Ask learners what their favourite foods are and get a few replies. Hold up a bag of compost and say this is plants favourite food. Can they guess what it is? Distribute handfuls of compost to small groups.

Ask them to

a) look and tell (brown and crumbly)
b) smell and tell (like earth, damp)
c) feel and tell (damp and light)
d) squeeze and tell (makes a ball but falls apart again).

Tell the class that this is compost, "brown gold": plants favourite food.

2. Planting a happy plant Demonstrate planting the plant, with a running commentary. Pause each time before adding compost, so that learners can call out COMPOST!

A few stones to drain the water

A little soil

   A little COMPOST to keep it damp

A little soil to hold the roots

Now the plant.

   A little COMPOST to feed it

A little soil to hold it in place

   A little COMPOST to keep it airy

A little soil to fill up the space

   A little COMPOST to make it grow

A little more soil

   A little COMPOST for leaves and flowers and fruit

Press it down on top

A little water

Now were done.

Ask: Is this a happy plant? (Yes!)

   What makes it grow? (Answer: COMPOST!)

   What keeps the soil airy?

   What gives it food?

   What keeps it damp? (Answer: COMPOST!)

3. Compost ingredients Show some sample compost ingredients. Explain that to make compost we put all the ingredients together, keeping it damp and airy. They will get warm and slowly turn into compost. Read out a list of compost ingredients (see Guide). Get learners to see how many they can remember and to call them out.

4. Using compost Ask older learners when else we should use compost for example:

- Use it in the early evening, when it is cool. Do not let it dry out.
- Spread compost before planting.squeeze and tell (makes a ball but falls apart again)
- Put compost in when potting.squeeze and tell (makes a ball but falls apart again)
- Put compost around growing plants every two weeks. Mulch to keep it damp.


Learners ask at home for something that can be used for making compost and bring it to the next lesson.



Straw, cut grass
Organic waste from kitchen
Weeds, plants, leaves, green manure
Animal manure
Wood ash
Animal and fish bones

NO !

Cooked food
Large pieces of wood
Tough weeds, seeding grass
Plastic, nylon, synthetic fabrics
Metal, wire
Glass, crockery
Coal ash



This lesson prepares for compost-making and can be done in the garden or inside.



- appreciate the value of compostsqueeze and tell (makes a ball but falls apart again)
- know how to make and use compost
- get the habit of making and using compost.


- a little compost, ordinary soil and sand
- some compost ingredients, e.g. soil, peel, dry grass, fresh weeds, cotton rags, fishbones
- an old bucket or can with holes in it
- paper and scissors to make "quote bubbles" with the two quotations above already written in


To prepare for the lesson, learners should

- find out about compost by asking gardeners, parents etc.
- bring some compost ingredients to the lesson.


1. Lead-in Assemble all the compost ingredients brought by the class. Show the three soil samples and ask which one is compost. What is the difference? Emphasize that compost is mainly rotted parts of plants and animals - "organic matter". Call out some items from the Guide in the previous lesson so learners can decide what is organic and suitable for compost.

2. Quotes Ask what learners have heard about compost. Pin up the prepared quote bubbles.

Discuss what is good about compost. Some ideas:

- It has all the food plants need; it gives back the nutrients to the soil.
- It makes soil roomy and airy (for roots to breathe and bacteria to work).
- It helps to hold water in the soil, but also lets it run through.
- It is natural; it is cheap; it uses things we have already.

Older learners can write short answers in speech bubbles to go with the first two bubbles.

3. Compost experiment Explain that making compost is like cooking. You need food, heat, air, water and a pot. (Tell older learners that you also need bacteria/fungi). Make some "mini-compost" in the bucket to demonstrate. As learners answer the questions, make the compost.

- What kind of "pot" do we need? (a container with holes for air and drainage)
- What do we put in first? (a few twigs for drainage)
- And next? (some green material, then some brown, animal manure, soil, and so on)
- Why do we add soil? (to bring in the fungi/bacteria)
- And to finish? (a little water, a layer of soil, some grass on top to keep it damp)
- What will happen now? (it will get hot and rot; it will need to be turned over)

4. Organizing garden work The experimental bucket compost will be ready in about two weeks. Learners should keep checking it. Decide on a day to make the real compost heap (see Guides A and B).


1. Compost spots After creating the compost heap, keep interest alive by treating it as a serial story with a new episode/activity every week e.g. make a compost collage of the ingredients, turn over the heap, make a signpost/flag for the heap, measure its heat, keep a pictorial record of the process, have a ceremonial "compost opening" when it is ready.

2. Next heap Revise the process by getting groups to start their own heaps.

3. Experiment Do experiments with plants grown with and without compost.

4. Drama Role-play: a compost enthusiast explains to novice gardeners why they need compost, how to make it etc.


Biology Plant life cycle, bacteria



Three bins is best.
Let air in. Keep damp.




Turn over the compost to get air in.


Keep contact with soil.
Let air in. Keep damp.




Make holes to let air in.
Leave for six weeks.




The school grounds express the schools identity, provide amenities, create an idea of a healthy environment, and act as an outdoor classroom. The way learners learn to think about them will affect their attitudes and behaviour to their future environments all their lives. This lesson aims to lead to action to enhance the schools physical environment by airing some ideas and getting learners to think about the practical details.



- make practical proposals for improving the school grounds
- initiate action.

(for younger learners)

- rough sketches on cards representing two or three ideas for improving the school grounds
(for older learners)
- a sketch-map of the school grounds
- a list of questions on display: Where will it be? How big? What kind? How do we make it / grow it? What will we need? Where will we get what we need?
- large blank cards


For younger learners, select two or three ideas for the school grounds which you think can realistically be achieved by your learners or with their help (for possibilities see Guide A). This way, you can exclude impractical ideas but at the same time allow learners a real choice. Sketch each idea simply on a large card. Older learners prepare by studying the ideas in Guide A.

(For younger learners)

1. Lead-in Outline two or three possible improvements in the school grounds which the class can undertake. As you do so, pin up the cards. Say why you have chosen each one (e.g. real benefits, available materials, not too much work, inexpensive, good for learning).

2. Questions and garden exploration Go into the garden and explore the ground. For each idea, discuss the questions: Where will it be? How big? etc. Let learners make the final choice.

3. Action plan Learners suggest the first steps to take and who is to take them.

(For older learners)

1. Lead-in Invite proposals for improving the school grounds and discuss which are most feasible. Sketch or write each idea on a large card and pin it up.

2. Questions Divide the class into groups, one for each idea and give out the cards. Go through the questions on display. Learners write the questions on the cards.

3. Garden exploration Groups explore the school grounds with the questions in mind. Set a time for reporting back. In the meantime, pin up the map of the garden.

4. Discussion and decision Learners report back and discuss each others ideas, referring to the site map and giving detailed suggestions. Let a consensus emerge on which idea to go ahead with. If learners are divided, suggest that one idea can be kept to next year.

5. Action plan Learners suggest the first steps to take and who is to take them. N.B. There is advice on planting trees in Guide B.


1. Written proposal Older learners write up proposals for these ideas, or others, and present them to class, school, families or visitors (for an example see Guide C). Class artists illustrate the proposals with sketches of the imagined end-result.

2. Diary Learners start a diary of the project or a project file.


Civics Urban planning, civic amenities





  • a bulletin board
  • raised beds
  • flowers and ornamental bushes
  • a compost heap
  • water harvesting
  • shade trees
  • a nursery for seedlings
  • a table for potting





  • a toolshed
  • a scarecrow
  • signs and signposting
  • a tree house with a rope ladder
  • a compost heap
  • grassy areas for sitting and playing
  • swings, seesaws, sandpit, roundabout
  • a pond
  • a herb garden
  • fruit trees





  • hedges, gates
  • a woodlot of dense bush or trees
  • a cooking area
  • a hard paved area for hopscotch, marbles etc.
  • an eating area
  • a map or plan of the garden on display
  • an entrance arch
  • a stand or stall for serving/selling garden produce
  • a bird house or bird table
  • an enclosed "quiet area" or "outdoor room"
  • a wildlife habitat/wilderness
  • some outdoor art (mosaic paving, giant chair, scrap sculptures)
  • a central courtyard for meetings or performances, with places for spectators to sit
  • tables, benches, logs, rocks for sitting, reading and writing garden journals



You can grow a tree from seed, but it is quicker to find or buy a small sapling and plant it where you want it. Two metres high is ideal. If it is smaller, make sure it is protected well from animals, wind and too much sun.


Seedling in soil




Dig a square hole
1m x 1m deep.
Have compost ready.

Fill two thirds of the hole with half soil and half compost.

Put in the tree. Stake it if necessary.

Drop the remaining soil gently around the tree.
Press down firmly.

Make a soil wall around the tree.
This catches and holds water.

Cover the ground around the tree
with 20 cm of mulch or compost.
This keeps soil moist, keeps
down weeds and feeds the tree.

Protect the tree from wind, sun and animals.

Water well...... and continue to water regularly.


Older learners can work up a detailed written proposal as a public writing exercise.


Reasons We would like to have shade trees behind the school, where we can sit and talk, play and study. We would also like an avenue of trees leading to the school. Our trees should also give us fuel for cooking, stakes for the garden, medicine or fruit as well as shade.

Recommendations We would like neem trees. They grow fast, are big and shady and live a long time. They are evergreen and give shade all year. They also give a natural pesticide and the wood is good for fuel. We would also like some loquat trees. They produce delicious, nutritious fruit; they are evergreen and you can make tea from the young leaves.

Inputs We need pips or saplings, compost, mulch, stakes, a spade and water.

Cost We could

  • grow the trees from pips, which would cost nothing but would take a long time
  • buy small saplings from the nursery (cost 60p each)
  • find saplings in the neighbourhood and dig them up (with permission).

What we have to do

  • Discuss where to put the trees.
  • Draw a picture of how the school yard will be when the trees are grown.
  • Plant saplings in October, when they are not growing. Mulch, stake and label.

Plant spare ones in tubs as backups.

  • Germinate seeds, grow seedlings, plant them out, label them, mulch well and protect from wind, pests and predators.
  • Water and check every week during the growing season. Record growth.
  • Keep a record of the project, with pictures (e.g. a photo every month).
  • Thank volunteers and donors personally.
  • Organize an event to "inaugurate" the trees. Provide garden refreshments.
  • Publicise the project.

Who will be responsible

Class 3 will be responsible and will water the saplings in the school holidays.

Our parents will help us dig up the saplings and plant them. Our teacher will help us to prepare publicity.

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