Gardening for Children's Mental Health Week
To mark Children Mental Health Week, we caught up with Nicola Slack, headteacher at St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Devon, who set up a wellbeing garden in 2019.
03 February 2020
Taking place from 3-9 February 2020, Children’s Mental Health Week shines a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health.
Here, Nicola explains what impact the wellbeing garden has had on pupils at St Mary’s.
Why did you set up a wellbeing garden?
“It was actually something our children asked for. Some of our Year 5 children received training as part of a Devon local authority scheme, 'Early Help for Mental Health'. As part of their training, they walked around the school identifying areas for improvement. That’s when the children requested a quiet place outdoors where they could chat at break times.
“The garden we came up with was a joint effort as we drew on gardening knowledge of our community, one of whom was a therapist who supports people with sensory needs.”
What plants did you use and how did you design the garden?
“We built the garden around some established apple trees. We planted raised beds with a variety of herbs and edible salads, and planted grasses to create sound and to help shape a pathway of wooden stepping-stones that the children could follow.
“The children made wooden wigwam structures from hazel and willow and then planted sweet peas to grow up them. We also planted shrubs, such as wiegela to add colour and attract bees.”
What effect do you believe the garden has had on young people’s mental health?
“Different pupils have different needs, but certainly anxiety is something that many pupils struggle with at certain times of the year. The summer is a time of transition in primary schools, with new pupils in Reception class and older children moving onto new secondary schools. We found that having the garden available as a calm and tranquil place to reflect was really helpful for the children during that period.”
What impact do you feel gardening has on young people’s overall development?
“Our school is situated within Dartmoor National Park and so being outdoors and taking care of the environment are a big part of what we do at St Mary’s. Being in the wellbeing garden has encouraged the children to collaborate, be considerate of others and has improved their teamwork. Our outdoor activities link to the curriculum, too, for example, we teach KS1 Science through lessons about wildlife and habitats and in Design Technology lessons, as we look at where food comes from.
“As the children were involved in the garden from the start, they have a sense of pride and satisfaction in it and even remind other children to take care of it. They particularly enjoy watching the flowers and plants grow, and harvesting apples during autumn.”
Wellbeing gardens can be created in any school, whether rural or urban, even if you only have a small patch of land. Get creative – some schools have transformed park of the car park, or even grown plants on the schools’ roof!
Check out these resources to help you green your school.
Sow sensory plants from seed
A guide to greening your school
Make a wind chime