Polytunnel gardening in Schools

School gardening brings learning alive, growing food, plants and being involved in the gardening process all contribute towards improving childrens well being, in terms of personal achievement, pride and empowerment. For children with learning difficulties, fulfilling these non academic tasks further enhances that sense of achievement and personal worth, and crucially, for children with disability, gardening offers social and peer group inclusion.

Children (and many adults) find gardens and gardening to be a peaceful process/place. The type of place where meditation and reflection comes naturally. Qualitative studies of school gardening projects have indicated reduced levels of stress, increased engagement and motivation in pupils who have exposure to gardening activities.

Gardening in schools encourages children to be:-

  • More active learners capable of independent thinking
  • More resilient and confident with a responsible approach to life
  • Exposed to, and develop, vital skills such as accountability, team work and direction
  • Aware of the importance of health and follow a more active lifestyle
  • good communicators, able to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds.

In other words, children exposed to gardening become ready to learn, resilient and responsible.

Watch Charles Dowding, Future Gardeners Forum:

Ready to learn

Teachers report that gardening in school has:-

  • Improved childrens readiness to learn
  • Encouraged children to take control and develop better problem solving skills
  • Improved childrens academic skills including literacy and numeracy
  • Contributed to progress across the board within the early years and key stage 2

Resilient - Resilience is part of the ‘every child matters’ programme which helps children grow up to become well rounded adults. Gardening makes significant contributions to the development of these young minds:-

  • Boosting self esteem and motivation
  • Developing coping mechanisms to deal with life’s up’s and down’s
  • Improves concentration by providing a calm space within which to learn

Responsible - Gardening helps children grow up as healthy adults who can make positive contributions to society. Where does gardening fit? And what can it contribute?

  • Gardening encourages early years healthy eating
  • Promotes responsible behaviour
  • Helps children to be flexible thinkers, able to adapt and work around problems and new situations
  • Increases the childrens awareness of their role within society and the local community

Easy ways for polytunnel gardening to support the curriculum


Root and Veg Volcanoes

Fill a seed tray with 2.5cm layer of compost. Let the children shape the landscape.

Slice the tops off Carrots and Turnips, plant these into the compost.

Decorate the Volcano country with stones and pebbles.

Place on a window sill and keep the compost damp.

The tops will soon sprout green ‘lava’

Year 1

Curriculum focus – identifying plants with basic structures

Ready, steady, sprout

You will need sprouting seeds (such as Cress)which are ready to eat within a week. The seeds can be sown in pots or trays and stored on a windowsill. Make sure you keep the soil moist. Check for growth every day with a magnifying glass. After germination, inspect and list the structures of the plant – seed case, root, stems and leaves.

Year 2

Curriculum focus – growing plants need water, light and a suitable temperature

Meadow flower monsters

In March, on a weed free, sunny site, rake the soil and water thoroughly. Mark out the outline of your monster with sand. Sow wild flower seeds over the sand and rake in. After germination this will need to be watered, tended and tinned out. You can expect the first varieties of flower by June with others coming later, some as late as the following Spring. This activity creates a wildlife haven.

Year 3

Curriculum focus – plant structure and the transportation of water

Magic carnations

Make a fresh cut at the bottom of a white Carnations stems and place in a glass of water containing 20 drops of food colouring. Leave for 12 to 24 days. As the water travels up the stems, the colour of the flower petals will change. Tip – red and blue dyes work the fastest.

Year 4

Curriculum focus – the changing environment

Habitat study

Start this activity in February with a wildlife hunt – within the grounds of the school. List what you find, where and when. Think about how this could be improved? Plants for insects, bird feeders, bug boxes etc. Make this a monthly activity and monitor/record as the biodiversity changes.

Year 5

Curriculum focus – plant reproduction

Multiply plants with cuttings

Geraniums are a great plant to demonstrate how to take cuttings. Cut a stem about 5cm long. With your fingers, pinch off all the leaves except the top two. Plant the shoot in some cutting compost. Place in a well lit, warm spot, keep the compost moist, watch the plants grow and develop.

Year 6

Curriculum focus –classification

Put the world in order

Go to a park or other open space, mark out a 1m square patch. Using a magnifying glass look for plants and insects to list. Classify what you find according to characteristics and differences. Make this a monthly activity and monitor/record as the biodiversity changes.

Keeping gardening fun

We don’t want to put children off by making gardening look like a chore. One of the biggest benefits of the polytunnel is the protection it offers from the elements, allowing you to be warm and dry on even the windiest and wettest of days, making year round growing much easier.

A polytunnel gives you the opportunity to produce crops out of season and to produce tender crops that would either not grow or produce very little crop if grown outside. It is a great way to demonstrate the benefits of a controlled growing environment.

Maintaining a sense of achievement is central to all school gardening activities. This maybe no more than growing some mustard and cress, it may expand into things like lettuce, carrots and more. Whatever level your school is at, it’s important to always remember that this isn’t just growing for growing sake, the crop is grown to eat. Consuming home-grown fruit and vegetables is a central part of understanding what a healthy lifestyle really is.

It has been proven in areas where school gardening was a part of the curriculum, that childrens intake of fruit and vegetables increased. This also enhances the well being, positivity, pride and many other types of empowerment for the children. Growing food and being involved with the gardening process has many, many benefits for the pupils, staff, families and the local community.

Case Study – All Saints Church of England Primary School, Chatham, Kent

This is a larger than average urban primary school where 1/3 of the pupils come from various minority and ethnic backgrounds. 10% of the children have English as a second language. 40% have learning difficulties and/or disabilities - these are mainly speech, language and behavior related. In total there are 310 pupils at the school.

When Medway council gave All Saints use of two allotments – one for fruit and veg, and one for wildlife – the teachers immediately added gardening into the curriculum. The ‘home front’ period of the Second World War was brought to life for lower key stage 2 pupils with a ‘Dig for Victory’ project and two fellow allotment gardeners shared their experiences as wartime evacuees.

Worms played a central role for key stage 1 pupils, who wrote of poetry about mini beasts. This project allowed the children to touch worms and snails, feeling the textures and experiencing the sensation of the animals moving over their skin. It was universally agreed that the poems were more creative and had a genuine ‘wow’ factor as a result of the gardening activities the children had been involved with.

Gardening’s ability to teach multiple skills through single projects is really important to the teaching staff at All Saints. It was the major reason that the school embraced the offer of the plots. The teaching staff like the practical, hands on nature of gardening projects. They believe gardening is ideally suited to todays more flexible and creative approach to teaching where ‘everything is learnt through themes’.