Learning in the garden – a lesson for us all

By Tom Warman, Director of Marketing & Development

With spring well and truly in the air and the tough winter months behind us, it’s amazing how the world seems bigger, brighter and fresher – not least thanks to the fact that, for those of us with gardens, we now have a whole new space to relax and play in.

At Eureka! learning about the world we live in automatically includes helping children understand about the environment and the importance of plants and wildlife, which is precisely how Our Global Garden gallery initially came about. But we also want children to enjoy the outdoors simply for what it is – a fantastic, free outdoor space in which to play, learn and feel close to nature – hence the development in 2010 of our outdoor Wonderwalk which helps children explore the sights, smells and textures of nature.

Great outdoors or great big yawn?

However, it seems perhaps that for many children these days the great outdoors has become the great big yawn. Research last year by Play England and antiseptic brand Savlon startlingly revealed that 1 in 3 children between the age of 6 and 15 have never climbed a tree and that 60%would prefer to play computer games than venture outdoors.

Games like Farmville attract a staggering online following, but can't replace real life engagement.

However, the good news is that at least 40% would like to be outside, and 2 out of 3 children have actually experienced the fun of climbing a tree. It just seems as if games consoles, tablet PCs and mobiles seem to have won the battle for their attention – at least for the time being. But its not just children that seem distracted by technology – Social media-embedded games that replicate the great outdoors, such as Farmville, have attracted a staggering global adult audience of 100m users! That’s 100m grown ups that could be engaging with children in the garden, growing plants from seed even – just like a real farm!

Interestingly, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) also sees great benefit from engaging children in the garden and, and as well as launching next week’s National Gardening week, launched a campaign in 2010 for school gardens to be reintroduced as part of a wider programme of curriculum-related activities. Its research found that, as well as helping children lead happier, healthier lives, gardening helped them acquire the essential skills they need to fulfil their potential in a rapidly changing world and make a positive contribution to society as a whole.

So, top marks to the RHS for leading on a campaign which, in effect, not only recognises the importance of gardening (no surprise there then) but also sees the garden as another learning space – a classroom even. Hoorah!

Does bacon come from sheep?

This brings us on to another important lesson for a sedentary generation of children who remain transfixed by their technological gadgets and, as a consequence, are less aware than previous generations as to where it comes from. Only two years ago, a survey conducted by the Home Grown Cereals Authority on behalf of the National Farmers Union found that 26% of children thought bacon came from sheep while 29% claimed oats were grown on trees!

Seeds + soil + water = your first gardening lesson

Whilst we’re not advocating that every parent and child should convert their gardens into fully working farms, it’s not difficult to want to endorse National Farmers Union president Pete Kendall who said “Everyone should know where primary foods like cereals are grown and the importance they play in helping us achieve a healthy balanced diet.” And for us, even the most rudimentary of lessons in the garden could start with a 50p packet of seeds, a patch of soil and a watering can. Who knows where this might lead?

A generation disconnected from nature

Fewer than 10% of children play in wild outdoor places

Only last week The National Trust published A Natural Childhood a compelling report written by Stephen Moss, in which it draws attention to Nature Deficit Disorder, a growing phenomenon based on evidence which shows that society, and particularly children, are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. Whilst the report notes that fewer than 10% of children play in wild outdoor places, compared to 50% a generation ago, the good news is that there are still parents and grandparents who can remember the pleasures of outdoor play and can help to reverse the current trend. The challenge is to get them to make it happen.

Eureka! Playscape and Play 20 campaign

Back at Eureka! a key aspect of our future development strategy is the creation of an outdoor playscape which will be designed to re-engage children and families with the endless possibilities of playing outdoors, exploring and quantifying elements of risk through play and simply being active in a way that isn’t dependent on technology, a phone app or a games console. We’ve also launched our Play 20 campaign to increase inter-generational play, including ideas for play at the park (or garden!) and which will feature additional, seasonal outdoor play ideas throughout the year.

The ultimate benefit from playing in the garden or outdoors is that it gives everyone a healthy regard for being active – and who knows, we might just help buck the long term prediction that (on current trends) 6 out of 10 children will be overweight or obese by 2050. Surely it’s worth a try?

About Eureka! Experts Blog

The experts in play and learning from Eureka! The National Children's Museum
Gallery | This entry was posted in child development, childhood, children, children's museums, curriculum, education, health, nature play, outdoor play, outdoors, play, play spaces and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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