Growing in the garden

Partnering with teachers and primary school students in a weekly gardening project, researchers at the University of South Australia found working in the garden had multiple learning benefits, from transdisciplinary learning, to fostering sustainability and global citizenship.

In the Australian curriculum, sustainability is described as a ‘cross curriculum priority’ indicative of the transdisciplinary nature of learning for sustainable and harmonious interaction with the environment.

Vital Adjunct

UniSA researcher, Dr David G. Lloyd, said it’s vital children have opportunities to appreciate and connect with nature.

“Gardening can open a whole new world of interest and opportunity for children,” Lloyd offered. “Working in a community garden is not only about growing edible food; it’s also about connecting to place and nature, as well as grasping the importance of sustainability.

“Community or school food gardens can help us to better understand the value of living locally and demonstrate how we can be more self-sufficient. They show us how to live with a lower carbon footprint, and how we can enjoy our connection to our natural world.

“In this project we found that primary-aged children can adopt sustainability principles simply by growing their own food, connecting with others, and respecting the environment. And at the same time, we showed that transdisciplinary learning can occur throughout the gardening experience.”


The project engaged Year 4 (aged 9-10 years) and Year 1 (aged 5-6 years) primaryschool students in a three-hour-a-week gardening activity, where they grew their own food in the Old School Community Garden in Stirling, South Australia. Their gardening activities were also supplemented by school-based learning about the children’s ‘in-field’ experiences.

Co-researcher and UniSA Associate Professor, Kathryn Paige, said the gardening project illustrated how out-of-the-box activities can incorporate the school curriculum.

“Finding different ways to engage students is an ongoing challenge for teachers. But when we find something that works on multiple levels – like gardening – it’s an activity that should be encouraged,” Assoc Professor Paige said.

“For example, in the community garden children learned maths when they counted out plants and measured distances between seedlings; chemistry when they tested the pH levels of soil and diluted liquid fertilisers; science and biology when they discovered facts about plants and ecosystems; plus, literacy when they read instructions and retold their experiences at school.

“They also improved their social skills as they engaged with their peers.

“The fundamental importance of this activity was holistic learning: connecting to the world around us, the community in which we live, and understanding how we all interact.

“We’re living in a time of globalisation, where we’re reaching social, environmental, and economic limits.

“By encouraging teachers to embrace immersive, whole-of-curriculum initiatives that connect education and sustainability principles, we’re positioning the younger generation up for success.”

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