Monday, September 2, 2013


St. Patrick’s School Kitchen Garden Blacktown.
A Place to Grow and Learn
Our St. Pat’s Kitchen Garden commenced in 2009. Over that time it has grown and developed from very small beginnings to a large garden growing many and varied vegetables, some citrus fruits, herbs, Rose Cottage (see photo), a rain gauge and a lovely reflective space with a water feature for all to enjoy.
We are a multi-cultural school with 60-70 percent of our students coming from a language background other then English.  We have many refugee and migrant families with a number of our students now being born here, in Australia, but come to school speaking very limited English and having little exposure to proficient English language models.
Our school Kitchen Garden’s primary focus is the development of vocabulary in oral language and the development of confidence in language amongst all the students in order to assist the development of reading comprehension and writing.  We have found that working together on the many and varied projects in and around the garden has improved and developed the student’s ability to socialize, communicate, connect and most importantly co-operate with their peers, learning from teachers and one another. It has created a relaxing place to learn and grow.
We began with 60 students who participated in the program on a rotational basis over one day with three teachers and two teachers’ assistants. We divided these students into three groups of twenty at one time, who would all then be working in groups of five on a selected activity (Literacy, cooking, gardening, craft).  Each week the students would rotate to the next activity. This enabled us to work with each group for approx. 45 minutes.  With limited funding and resources this has been downsized to 45 students at present but working the same way. All students from k-6 are involved, with the groups being of mixed age ranges. The garden fosters the development of leadership skills from the older students and encourages all to be involved. We have not only chosen students who struggle with language but also there is a need to incorporate good language role models for those students. This enables the garden to be an inclusive space for all students, a shared experience for the whole school community. Teachers are also encouraged to use the garden as part of their program enabling even more students to have access to the garden, giving the Kitchen Garden students an opportunity to share their knowledge.
As the program has developed we have worked hard to link closely with Curriculum Outcomes and ESL scales. This keeps us focused and increasingly allows us to expand continually linking into areas of sustainability and the environment. Developing in the students a sense of respect and responsibility towards our community and world. We have explored further the simple things that students and families can do to eat healthy, cook, recycle, compost and care for our world. Our Kitchen Garden Program links positively with literacy, language and life. We can all make a difference and these students are learning new ways to live and enjoy our world whilst increasing their language, knowledge and love of nature.
 From humble beginnings we have now developed and learnt about no dig gardens, planting, harvesting, maintaining and composting. The students feed and use the worm farms, recycle and have developed an awareness of the environment.  We have made scarecrows, tiled areas of the garden, and created a practical outdoor learning space.
All activities are planned, programmed and evaluated weekly, using prepared formats. The garden has fostered and encouraged many students to take their knowledge home, share it with their families and begin their own gardens and lots of conversations!!
The many and varied excursions to Mamre Homestead, Hawkesbury Show and the Youth Eco Summit (YES) have been invaluable new and learning experiences.  A large number of our refugee students have never been to an agricultural show or farm.
Of course as part of our program we cook using many of the vegetables or herbs grown in the garden.  Excess produce at this stage is going home to families and shared with the community, but there are opportunities to grow, sell plants and produce.
The garden has produced enough fruit and vegetables at some stages to give all the students in the school an opportunity to sample the produce from the garden during fruit and water breaks. A fresh, straight from the garden experience.
Students need plenty of varied naturalistic opportunities for language use and the kitchen garden provides involvement in motivating learning experiences, which both linguistically and cognitively challenge students. Our students have come alive in the garden, personalities have emerged and many over-active ones have been more settled. It is now very much embedded in our school culture and programs, constantly growing and improving.
Maria Marks
Learning Support Teacher
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This item is in the first edition of the Australian Association of Environmental Education - NSW Chapter, journal - 'Conversations'  ... if you would like to receive further information, please contact AAEE Project officer, Jem Hansen, by email ... or phone 02 6585 3601