The Edible Playground at Blessed Sacrament Primary School was opened in the summer of 2018 by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Christine Banks. We applied to Trees for Cities, the only organisation to offer everything you need to create an Edible Playground. We were successful in our bid and were funded through the Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust to build an Edible Playground at our school.
The Edible Playground team have transformed the school grounds into vibrant outdoor teaching garden, which now inspires hands-on learning that gets children excited about growing and eating healthy food. It helps improve health and wellbeing, has opened access to nature and has provided a fun outdoor learning environment that supports cross-curricular teaching and learning.
It is a facility which is available for our whole school community to use.
At present childhoods are dramatically changing, with fewer opportunities to spend time outdoors. At Blessed Sacrament we aim to balance this change by providing as many opportunities as possible to learn in the outdoors, we believe it will benefit the children in many ways mentally and physically.
Jimmy and John work for ‘Food for Thought’ and we’re very lucky to have forged a link with them. They come into Blessed Sacrament every Tuesday morning. Primarily they are doing gardening activities with classes, mostly in the Edible Playground but they have some other great ideas for around the school too, which are very much ECO related.
Classes are timetabled for a 30 min session, this will mean every class (nursery to Y6) will go outdoors with Jimmy and John at least once every term. On their day, children will need to be reminded to come to school prepared for all weathers with a warm coat, hat, gloves and wellington boots in a bag if necessary.
Dutch Farm Visit
The pupils of Blessed Sacrament absolutely love their visits to Dutch Farm in Garston. Once they’d completed their health and safety induction, we introduced them to a range of tools, which they all get the opportunity to use. We noticed their confidence growing as they became more competent at handling rakes, hand forks, spades, secateurs, loppers and wheelbarrows.
The pupils have carried out the tasks we set them to a very high standard, and always with great enthusiasm. They’ve collected autumn leaves to turn into leaf mold, which can be used in future years to improve soil structure in the raised beds where fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown. They have weeded and dug over the raised beds, in preparation for the spring. They have cut back and collected nettles in order to make nettle fertiliser which will be used on crops in the spring. They have planted around 300 daffodil bulbs in the community orchard at the farm. They have cleared a large area of brambles, which has made space for the creation of a willow dome and Serenity Garden.
We’re keen to teach the pupils of Blessed Sacrament how to connect with the natural environment and be actively involved in conservation. The pupils are currently participating in the John Muir Award scheme, which focuses on discovering a wild place, exploring it, doing something to conserve it and then reporting back on what they’ve done. We are also teaching the children some photography, so they can exhibit photographs they’ve taken at an event at the end of the academic year, showing parents, carers and teachers what they’ve been up to down on the farm.
It’s time away from school, in the outdoors, getting plenty of fresh air, learning new skills, building confidence and self-esteem, working as a team, following instructions precisely. Children are under so much pressure these days, and Dutch Farm is a beautiful urban oasis owned by Liverpool YMCA, where there’s no pressure on the children, so they can relax, de-stress and replenish themselves mentally, physically and spiritually. The school staff, and John and I, can see the children thriving in this outdoor environment; they don’t have to tell us they are (although they often do!), we can see their whole demeanour change as the sessions progress.
Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures in life that mean so much, and the children love it when we all retire to the tea shed for a hot chocolate and some biscuits half way through the session. They’ve worked hard and really appreciate a break, before getting back out to complete their allotted tasks.
Towards the end of the session, the children are rewarded with the job of feeding either the pigs or the ducks and chickens. Initially, some of the children were a bit apprehensive, most never having been so close to such animals, but they’ve overcome their fears and now look forward to this job!
We’ve also worked with the pupils of Blessed Sacrament in their Edible Playground at the school. We’ve been really impressed with the way the children have jumped straight in and shown a real enthusiasm for outdoor learning. Children these days seem to have few opportunities to get their hands dirty, and so they’ve loved digging in the soil and planting spring bulbs, weeding, tasting and smelling different herbs and sowing winter broad beans. My colleague, John, and I, have had them out in the garden in the wind and rain and there’s never been any complaining or requests to go back to class. We feel it’s massively beneficial for children to spend more time outdoors, and on days when the weather’s not so good it helps them to develop resilience.
The garden will come alive in the spring, and we’ll continue to work with each class, week by week, to teach them about sowing seeds, taking responsibility for the plants’ growth, harvesting the produce and then tasting the fruits of their labour.
Horticulture crosses over into so many areas of the national curriculum, such as science, maths, literacy and numeracy, and the children are also learning to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature. As in any garden, there’ll be failures and disappointments during the year, but they’ll be overshadowed by the enjoyment and successes……and it all builds character!
Jimmy Holland/John Lloyd
School Growers, Food For Thought (Liverpool) Ltd.