For the creative session held on May 18, in the Center for Agroecology and Environment (CEAMA) of Murcia region, more than 40 educational centers were called, but in the end there were only 5 centers represented. Four of them were schools, of which 3 already have the garden at their school, while the other school will implement its garden in the march of 2019.
We have had the assistance of the Huerto Pío center, an environmental education center, that consults and trains the children and teachers in its center, and as well teachers in schools.
The conversation / debate was moderated by José María Egea, collaborator of the Agroecology Center and a professor of Botany at the University of Murcia. He has a long and extensive experience in the implementation of educational school gardens in the region of Murcia.
The session was enriching despite the participation of the centers being low, which is understandable since it is the end of the school year, and it represents a difficulty for the teachers to engage in extracurricular activities, especially if it involves a car trip to another town.
The session began with a brief presentation of “Gardens to grow” project, followed by presentation of the results obtained in the first phase of the project; a brief analysis of the data obtained in the questionnaires carried out in the centers and the schools that participated. This served as a starting point to begin the debate on the experiences of other centers that already have experience with their educational gardens.
During the debate we discussed about the difficulties of having a garden at school:
• There is no specific training for the teaching staff.
The vast majority of teachers do not have any horticultural knowledge.
In Murcia, there is an annual course on horticulture for teachers, but not all of them do it and when there are problems in the garden during the, it is often not easy to get help.
• It does not exist any network of the centers with gardens; there is a lack of exchange of experiences, and a lack of support when a certain problem arises, mainly related to the garden. Network would serve as a help and support to the mentioned problems and to the problems with the funding and would serve as a tool of inspiration to other centers.
• The support from parents is necessary, their involvement and participation beyond school.
• The funding.
We have also discussed about the first fundamental steps to follow when it comes to implementation of a children’s garden, according to their experiences:
• Participation and mobilisation.
The true involvement by the center is the most important point, this means that it is necessary to identify and know who would be responsible for the garden maintainance.
Furthermore, if the center has limited financial resources or time constraints, it would be necessary to contact and try to involve the parents, either financially or with their work and support. Another support which schools can try to ask are the neighbors or elderly people, which serves as a sort of social inclusion for them as well, where they can apply their knowledge and experience in real life situations.
• Organizing the tasks of the garden, establishing calendars, and coordinating the teachers and groups of the center to work well in the given space.
There are several conclusions and suggestions we have made:
• To create a Blog or Facebook group in order to get better visibility by parents and others
• To explore the possibility of creating small “markets” where children can sell directly their plants (or products) they have previously planted. This can lead to extra economic beneficials, and also there is a relation with the area of mathematics that can serve children as real time learning and they can get clearer picture of how a garden can become a lifestyle and a real job.
We have also discussed about significance of the skills that children develop in the garden such as: psychomotricity, mathematics, colors and artistic expression, and the importance of children seeing the complete process of the vegetable growth.
One of the schools shared their experience regarding the wheat plantation they did in September. Eventually, by the end of the school year they had an opportunity to harvest wheat and then mill it in order to make the flour for the bread which they also have made. This way, children could see how exactly the bread was made, from plantation of the wheat to the final product, which they could as well consume. In this manner, children generate a habit of consuming the food they are growing.
Other positive aspects that the centers with gardens pointed out at the meeting were:
• The importance of working with the senses; the centers gave examples of practices with children through sensory experiences, such as product cards where they have to put the flavor that a certain vegetable has, touch, etc. What makes children try things by playing that otherwise would not do.
• The sounds of birds they could hear.
• Working with compost is very interesting because you start working from recycling. The importance of decomposing insects.