Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


Aims and principles


  • Reviewing principles and priorities
  • Choosing aims
  • Writing a mission statement

Survival skills School gardens can have many different uses and have been seen in many different ways, some practical and some educational.
“Gardens are good for schools because they teach children the skills for survival.”The table below divides the “practical” aims from the “educational” ones.
(S. Ncube, personal communication,2004)At first glance, which of these aims are your priorities and interests?

The school’s practical aims are:
Children learn:
GARDENINGto create a successful, sustainable garden using organic methods how to grow things in a safe and sustainable way, and how to run their own successful gardens 
to enjoy gardening and have positive attitudes to agriculture 
to provide a model of a mixed kitchen garden for the community to talk to families and community members about gardening practices 
NUTRITIONto produce food for the school how to grow food for themselves 
to improve children’s diet with garden produce how to improve diet and prepare healthy meals with garden produce 
to improve children’s eating habits to appreciate healthy foods and to change their own eating habits 
MARKETINGto sell garden produce to get income for the school business skills and entrepreneurship 
ENVIRONMENTto improve the school environment (trees/grass/paths/ flowers, etc.) respect for and interest in their school environment 
to collect rainwater, grey water; to encourage helpful insects; to prevent erosion, etc. environmental awareness and understanding, respect for nature, natural resource management 
SCHOOL SUBJECTSto reinforce some areas of the school curriculum (e.g. science, environmental science, home economics) particular subjects through active, hands-on experience 
LIFE SKILLSto help children survive and prosper in the world how to plan, take decisions, collaborate, take responsibility, explain and persuade, etc. 
SCHOOL AND COMMUNITYto bring together school, children, families and community in a common endeavour to relate to adults in various ways and to be aware of gardening practices in the community 

Gardens produce funds, food and lessons in marketing, science and teamwork
Nebiri School is in a game reserve in the Zambesi Valley in Zimbabwe. The garden has mango trees, paw-paw, a lemon tree and areas with tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables. A small grant provided a solar-powered electric fence to keep the big game out (though it doesn't deter the monkeys). Children bring in elephant and buffalo manure for the compost heap.
The garden provides funds for the school for stationery and equipment: the school sells the produce in the local market and to families at half price. Older pupils market the food and keep the accounts. Under the responsibility of the head teacher, the garden work is organized by a “garden team” of four pupils, which changes every month. Teachers use the garden as a learning resource for maths, biology and environmental science.
(S. Ncube and L. Chinanzvavana, personal communication, 2004)


Your school garden’s aims may change and develop over time.
What is important is that they:

Some lessons of experience are:

Aims succeed if they are what people want. Avoid imposing aims. Find out what people want and make your choices from these ideas.

The garden must benefit the children and be seen to do so. Food produced by the garden will be for the children, income will be for the school, education will be a clear priority.

School gardens can make a real difference to children’s health. They can:

School gardens can add nutritional value and variety to school meals, but they cannot feed the whole school! To produce enough food for that, children would have to work very long hours. This is not ethical or educational, and would certainly be very unpopular - with both children and their parents.1

1 Boarding schools and resident colleges - e.g. further education, teacher training - can usually produce more than normal schools. Some agricultural colleges are virtually self-sufficient in food.

Pride in the school comes first The most vigorous school garden projects take special pride in the whole school and its environment, as well as in the garden itself.

School gardens have many roles in the life of the school and community. They should be places where:

Making income for the school is not enough Producing income may be an indispensable function of the garden, but it must be balanced by educational aims. Selling crops to make money should also have an educational dimension.

There may be negative attitudes to the garden Agriculture as an occupation and gardening as an activity may be seen as low-status, boring work. The school may need to work to change such attitudes and should start by discussing perceptions and objectives with all concerned.

Try to link garden work visibly to scholastic achievement in children’s schoolwork and homework: don’t leave reading and writing out of your garden programme!

Using the garden across the curriculum depends on the situation How far can the garden be integrated into the classroom curriculum? This depends on what subjects are offered (e.g. agriculture, environmental science, nutrition, business studies, home economics), how free teachers are to make their own way to established goals, whether cross-curricular project work is the norm, and so on. Individual teachers can of course use the garden independently to reinforce their subject teaching, and the school can include this in its in-service teacher education programme.

“Educating the community” requires caution

The school must be sure that it knows enough to teach the community and that the community is prepared to learn from it. Until that time, think of “consulting” the community rather than “educating” it - for example, schools can encourage children to report at home what they’re doing at school, invite families to visit the garden, create a model garden, distribute seedlings.

Schools should also learn from the community and make it clear that they are doing so.


This Manual draws on the lessons of experience and promotes a wide concept of school gardens. In our view, school gardens should be seen primarily as a way of promoting healthy eating habits and good learning. They should not be seen mainly as sources of food or income, and especially not as a substitute for a school meals programme.

This Manual gives priority to:

Here is why we think these are so important…

1. School gardens are good for children’s health and education.

Good diet is essential to education. Children who do not eat well do not grow and learn well. They are often sick, miss lessons and may drop out of school early. They have less chance of getting a good job.

School gardens are not just for food, but for better eating. School gardens can make a direct and immediate improvement in children’s diet. They can provide fruit and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals, add nutritional value to school meals, increase the variety that is so important for health and growth, and help children to appreciate and enjoy this variety. They can also increase the foods available in the “hungry season”. Improving diet in this way can create long-term changes in practices and attitudes, and it does not rely on outside sources.

But children must not only eat better; they need to know how to eat better. Your school is an important setting for learning about food and nutrition. It is in close contact with families (who provide most of what children eat). If it provides school meals, it is helping to establish dietary habits. It can provide and emphasize clean water, sanitation and good hygiene and other nutrition-related health interventions such as deworming and vitamin A supplementation. School gardening completes this picture by teaching children to produce food, harvest it, store it and process it.

Will your garden put food first? Will you put the emphasis on nutrition and nutrition education?

2. School gardens are good for learning.

Gardens are good for learning: they are a highly practical and direct form of education, where children can see the results of their decisions and actions.

Learning how to grow good food not only improves health, it can also provide a livelihood and increase self-sufficiency. Where there are many orphans, school gardens help to give children the agricultural skills and values which parents can no longer pass on to them.

Apart from practical skills in agriculture and horticulture, gardens are a living laboratory for the study of environmental issues and life sciences.

For children a garden is an exciting place, full of things to see, discoveries to make, and achievements to celebrate. “Educational gardening” follows the school year, is attractive to pupils and teachers and does not need much space or money. It does, however, take time!

Will your garden make learning a priority?

3. School gardens teach business skills.

Many schools use their gardens and the children’s labour to create income for the school. This is a worthwhile practical aim, and sometimes a vital one for the school and its children. But the benefit is multiplied many times if this commercial activity is also treated as an educational exercise. Some students in rural areas will make their living in agriculture. Many others will expect to supplement incomes from other occupations by growing crops for cash. Others will start small businesses unrelated to agriculture. All of them stand in need of basic business thinking, business skills and above all hands-on business experience. These can be acquired painlessly and at little expense in the school garden, which is an excellent practical introduction to good commercial practice for older students.

Are business studies part of your curriculum? Can the garden be used for practical business skills?

4. School gardens improve the environment.

Respect for the immediate environment begins at home - and also at school. The school grounds have elements of the natural environment, the built environment and the social environment: earth, plants and trees, insects and wildlife, sun and shade; water supply and sanitation facilities, paths and fences, buildings and shelters; places for recreation and study, social life and contacts with the outside world. Children’s awareness of these, and the way they learn to treat them, will help them to grow into responsible adults. Projects to enhance the school’s grounds create awareness and pride, and raise the school’s reputation in the community. Even small improvements should be a part of the garden curriculum in every school year.

Is there room for improvement in your school grounds? Can it be part of the garden programme? Will you give it priority?

5. School gardens help and are helped by the family and community.

The family and community can be involved in planning, advising, enjoying and learning from school garden projects, as well as in lending practical help, expertise, support and sponsorship. The educational value of the garden is extended to the community in the form of demonstration plots, visits, produce, children’s homework, exhibitions, school open days and media coverage.

Will your garden involve and draw on families and the community? How?

Community and school work together
In Burkina Faso a school garden project has had a real influence on the community, and vice versa. Women community workers helped schools set up gardens to grow foods rich in vitamin A. Some of these (e.g. carrots and orange sweet potato) were new to the area - they were first consumed by the children and then carried home and tried out there. Many home gardens have been started in imitation, and now people are producing and eating far more vegetables. With the increase in vitamin A consumption, there are far fewer cases of night blindness. Home gardeners are even trying out foods (e.g. tomato leaves) which have not been promoted by the community workers.
(Sifri et al., 2003)

6. School gardens are good for the earth.

Organic gardening conserves the soil, protects the environment and works with nature rather than against it. It is a method of growing food that relies on the earth’s natural resources, such as land, sun, air, rainfall, plants, animals and people. It uses natural methods to keep the soil fertile and healthy and to control insects, pests and diseases. It may produce results less quickly than conventional agriculture, which uses artificial fertilisers and pesticides, but in the long term it is healthier, more economical and more sustainable. Organic methods can help keep our water sources clean and free of chemicals. It is also safer for children because there are no dangerous chemicals. Commercially, it is increasingly profitable, as more and more people are asking for “organic” garden produce.


The organic methods we advise are:

You can find out more about organic gardening in the appendix Horticultural Notes.

Can your school adopt organic approaches? Will they fit the expectations of the community? How will you explain them to the children?

7. School gardens promote life skills: children grow with the garden.

“Life skills” are personal and social capacities such as managing work, planning and organizing, taking responsibility, working well together, understanding what one is doing, explaining it, taking pride in it and learning from experience. Including life skills in the garden curriculum means giving as much attention to “growing children” as to growing plants. It affects all activities and approaches. For example

Will you make life skills one of your garden’s main aims?


Once you have an idea of the main aims of your school garden, record them in a general mission statement. This can then be discussed by representatives of the school, parents, children, the garden group, sponsors and so on. There are some examples in the box below.


  • Develop children's understanding of vegetable production;
  • Raise children's interest in a more varied diet;
  • Help children to learn to produce vegetables;
  • Produce foods appreciated by the community and adapted to the local climate;
  • Give opportunities for children to consume the vegetables they grow (at school breakfast);
  • Encourage children to acquire attitudes of cooperation, responsibility, self-esteem and self-confidence, motivation and the value of work.(Source: Chauliac et al., 1996)
Our school gardens emphasize nutrition education, sustainable organic agriculture, youth entrepreneurship and neighbourhood beautification. We aim to:
  • Create and sustain an interdisciplinary curriculum that focuses on improving community health
  • Improve nutritional and health status by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in low-income communities
  • Improve the urban environment through school-based gardens
  • Facilitate school-based community health promotion projects
Foster socio-economic development through an entrepreneurial curriculum that includes business development activities (UNI, 2001).

There are natural limits to all ambitions! Get advice and discuss what is feasible. Start small and improve your garden step by step. Each year a new feature can be introduced. Your ambitions can grow with the garden.


Outputs: finalized mission statement.

  • Train children to explain the “Grow with the Garden” poster at the end of Part 1 to other children, parents and visitors.
  • Get children to illustrate the finalized mission statement and display it in the school.


First Things First

Many lessons can be done before garden work begins. They can open up discussions with pupils about the aims and uses of gardens, give background information about plants, soil and gardening, introduce ideas of good gardening, and help children to set up a garden record

1. Shall we have a garden? Pupils join the debate about whether to have a school garden.
Objectives Pupils become aware of the uses of gardens and their positive aspects, recognize their own potential role, discuss reasons for having a school garden and feel motivated to start.

Activities Pupils discuss gardens they know, posting up words and pictures of the items discussed: what they produce, what happens to the crops, what other things are found in gardens (e.g. taps, fences) and what they are for.They describe gardening jobs they know (e.g. weeding, digging) and discuss what they would like to do in a school garden, recording their ideas on the displayed words or pictures.

2. What plants like A key lesson for all aspects of horticulture and nature study. Objectives Pupils become aware of plants’ needs and identify the needs of particular plants.

Activities Pupils find ailing and healthy plants, describe them and note differences. They then imagine that they are plants, with roots (legs) and leaves (fingers) and answer questions:

Children speculate about why the sick plants are not well, then act out a mime or drama of young plants threatened by dangers and rescued by children.

3. Starting with soil Children look closely at soil.

Objectives Pupils learn to distinguish topsoil and subsoil, recognize good soil by feel and sight, and become aware of all the components of soil.

Activities In the school grounds pupils dig a hole to observe topsoil and subsoil, then inspect samples of good and poor soil, answer questions about them and learn the slogan “Good soil is damp, dark, crumbly and full of life”. On sheets of paper they sort soil components into four sets: things from plants, things from animals, live things and “other”, and learn to approve of organic content. They also do experiments to establish that soil contains air (put a soil sample in water), and water (cover a sample with a plate and leave in the sun).

4. Soil quality Simple experiments investigate soil quality and drainage.

Objectives Pupils have a good understanding of soil structure and its importance.

Activities Students discuss which soil components contribute to: opening up the soil for air, water, roots; keeping the surface soft; providing essential food for plants; dissolving nutrients; holding soil in place; holding plants firm; allowing animals and bacteria to live; trapping water or helping it to drain. They identify the type of soil in the school garden (clay, silt, sand) by feel. Soil quality is tested by making a “mudshake” with soil and water and letting it stand for two days until the sand/silt/clay/organic matter settles out (ideal proportions are clay 4, silt 4, sand 2 and about 5 percent organic matter). They test drainage by digging a hole, filling it with water, letting it drain, filling it again and timing how fast it drains with a measuring stick (should be 6–10 cm per hour). Finally, they recognize that adding compost is the way to improve soil drainage.

(Experiments suggested by Guy et al., 1996.)

5. Seeds and germination This lesson combines science with healthy snacking.

Objectives Pupils understand the nature of seeds and know how they germinate; they learn how to produce edible sprouts, and eat and savour them.

Activities Pupils inspect some seeds and discuss which plants they come from, then offer ideas about what seeds are (e.g. a plant egg, a food store, a sleeping plant). To make seed sprouts, they put suitable seeds (e.g. alfalfa, barley, broccoli, celery, lentils, beans, pumpkin, sunflower, wheat) to soak for a day, pour off the water, put in a glass jar, cover with a cloth and leave the jar on its side in a warm dim place in the classroom. Pupils predict what will happen. Twice a day they rinse the seeds with cool water, observe what is happening and compare it with predictions. After the seeds have sprouted, put them in the light for a day or two until they turn green, and then eat them - with ceremony! Pupils repeat the experiment at home and explain it to families.

6. Growing plants This lesson provides an overview of the plant life cycle in relation to food plants.

Objectives Pupils become aware of how plants are grown and the relation to the plant’s life cycle

Activities Pupils speculate on what happens after seeds have sprouted. They look at plants in different stages of development (seedling, growing plant, flowering plant, fruiting plant and seedhead), place them in order and find others in the school grounds to fit each category. They then apply these categories to crops they know well, or are planning to grow, deciding in each case if we harvest leaves, stems, roots, fruit or seeds.

A lettuce seedhead

7. Organic gardening Organic gardening is healthier for children, for crops and for the environment.

Objectives Pupils learn how to improve conditions for plants using natural methods.

Activities Pupils find a “sad plant”, name it, and discuss how to improve its life in answer to these questions: Has it got enough space and light? Is the earth very hard/too dry/too wet? Does it have rich soil to feed it? Is it being attacked or eaten? How can we go on helping it grow? They take appropriate action, label the plant with date, diagnosis and remedial action, and monitor it for the following two weeks. Older children follow up by researching questions about organic approaches (e.g. What is mulching and what is the point? Is it good to use fertiliser? What kind? What worms and insects are good for the garden? (see Organic gardening in the appendix Horticultural Notes).

8. The garden file Recording the life of the garden reinforces learning and heightens motivation.

Objectives Pupils are motivated to keep records of gardening events and activities, learn how to make a documentary record and become aware of its value.

Activities The teacher shows some well-known “garden documents” (e.g. photos, map, drawings). Pupils arrange them in chronological order, suggest titles, captions and dates for each and nominate writers to label the documents. The teacher shows how to file the documents in a “Garden File” and gets individuals to insert them one by one. The students discuss what they will put in the file (Best work? Photos? Visitors’ comments?) and where to keep it so it is accessible but safe. Finally they discuss what should go on the cover and front page and nominate class members to do the lettering, cover picture, etc. Volunteers undertake to explain and show the file to absent students.


Previous Page Top of Page Next Page