Growing Together: Gardening with Children and Young People with Special Educational Needs sets out the findings of a year long outreach project undertaken by the RHS in 2009 -10. The report is accompanied by a series of school case studies and a range of practical resource documents.
One of the charity’s visions is to give all young people the opportunity to garden as they develop, regardless of age and ability. The actual project was made possible by a generous legacy from the late Mr Peter Rees, who was a member of the RHS for over 30 years along with his late wife Moya. The legacy enabled the charity to fund a SEN Schools Project Officer to work with six Special Education Needs (SEN) schools in Sussex. She worked with 95 pupils and their teachers throughout the school year, leading both student sessions and teacher training.
Pupils’ ages ranged from four to 16 and they had conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC), Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD) Cystic Fibrosis, hearing impairment and Dyslexia. The emphasis of all sessions with the Project Officer was to give students practical, hands-on gardening experience and for teachers to learn skills so that they could work with the pupils between visits. The practical and process-orientated nature of gardening was seen to be particularly appropriate to the visual and learning-through-doing needs of some of these pupils.
Pupils showed an improved level of participation in activities and embraced a new level of responsibility for their own learning and progress. Those who had preferred to work independently developed improved team working skills. Gains in confidence and self esteem also made them more resilient and happy to persevere with challenging tasks.
“For me, the past year has been a career highlight. Working with 95 eager children and young people and their enthusiastic teachers has been demanding, fun and very, very productive. And I don’t just mean all the crops they produced,” says Hayley Young, RHS SEN Schools Project Officer. “I could see my young gardeners changing as the year progressed. Growing in confidence, being more interested in what was going on and interacting better with other children and adults.”
Teachers were also enthusiastic. One teacher from Newick House School, Sussex said, “I think that a lot of our pupils learn much more when they are doing practical things. By doing gardening they learnt about other subjects at the same time such as maths, English and science. Lots of our pupils learn by doing and having hands on experiences. That’s where gardening is really, really important in our school.”
Pupils were also very positive. One Year 9 pupil said, “Gardening is a useful thing as it calms me down. It’s a relaxing thing to do. I hope I come back to work in the polytunnel in Year 10. It has been a good experience,” a Year 6 pupil enthused. “I will do gardening forever.”
The findings of the pilot project have enabled the RHS to support two further SEN projects over the next few years. A Project Officer has been appointed to work with SEN pupils in mainstream schools in West Yorkshire and Hayley Young will look at opportunities for older secondary pupils to follow accredited horticulture courses to increase their chances of work experience and employment.