Let’s Make Soil: Gardening with Nursery Kids

I never imagined in my wildest predictions that I would ever become a nursery teacher. But somehow, through gardening, I stumbled into just that.

Through a very chance encounter, while volunteering at Kew Gardens, I learned about Studio Cultivate, an initiative set up by Francis Smith to teach children from an early age about the importance of horticulture. Each short “Kinder Garden” lesson connects children with the natural world and builds their knowledge through imaginative stories.

I, myself, never had this kind of programme back at nursery, but having spent a lot of time outdoors and especially in my grandma’s edible garden, I think gardening lessons are a fantastic idea, especially in crowded urban area like London.

But I especially liked the idea of challenging myself to be an engaging and imaginative presenter, two skills that I barely ever needed in my life previously. I know, I know — what about all those Power Points?

Yet I never felt so acutely the need to grab and hold attention, by any silly means possible, as when presenting to a group of little 3-year-old heads sitting there calmly and looking at you in anticipation. And you know that the attention span is sooooo short and that the calm will be so fleeting if you can’t engage them.

So after a short training period last year where I observed and worked with Francis, I became a fully independent nursery teacher. Today, was my first solo day of leading garden workshops. Yikes!

Our workshop today involved going to the park to learn about what goes into soil. A bit of a logistical challenge getting a group of nursery children out into the world and walking to the park, but the “real” nursery teachers were great at organising this.

I lead the children on short expeditions to find sticks, leaves, and stones. They loved being outside and searching for these components of soil. I would have loved if they could be out there even longer, not even as part of a curriculum, but just exploring on their own. I think they’d learn so much!

I presented at three nurseries today, and they all did a fantastic job. At one point we had to chase one of the kids through Battersea Park, but I’d just call that “natural exuberance”!

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