IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Sowing the seeds for gardening as a teaching tool with the Royal Horticultural Society

23 February 2024

A new partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is helping student teachers use gardening to enliven primary education while they learn to become teachers at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society.

Group of student teachers taking part in the RHS workshop

IOE is connecting with the RHS’s Campaign for School Gardening to demonstrate how school-based gardening can be used to engage and inspire young learners. New teachers are being supported to explore how to creatively embed growing and gardening in their teaching of subjects across the primary curriculum.

“Developing young people’s awareness of nature and growing is key to building a sustainable future for us all,” explains Jane Tillin, Lecturer in Primary Education at IOE. “It is wonderful to see student teachers having the opportunity to explore the potential role of school gardening in supporting children’s knowledge and understanding across the primary curriculum.”

The collaboration features a series of workshops held at the Campaign for School Gardening’s schools, where gardening is already an established part of the curriculum. Student teachers learn about the value of introducing growing and gardening skills at an early age and the benefits children gain through connecting with nature. They observe lessons taught by the schools’ teachers and explore curriculum links and approaches to planning before leading Campaign for School Gardening activities with pupils themselves.

Student teachers examining grasses in a school garden

“From understanding key concepts in geography, science, and maths; to exploring the benefits for children's physical health and mental well-being; and the value of nature-based learning to inspire our future artists, musicians, and writers,” adds Jane Tillin, “the opportunities are endless! A huge thank you to the RHS for making this partnership possible and providing inspiring learning opportunities for student teachers at IOE.”

Louise Mills Jay, RHS Horticultural Training Officer, said: “We have designed each activity so it can be delivered indoors and out whether a school has a garden or not. Each of the activities can be delivered to a class of 30 children in any school setting and does not require teachers to have any prior horticultural knowledge. It is also vital that minimal resources are needed so that cost isn’t a barrier for schools.” 

Recent workshops took place at Christ Church C of E Primary in Chelsea, London. These focused on integrating gardening activities with Music and PE; student teachers who are specialising in Music created a garden orchestra with children using natural materials such as sticks and pinecones, while PE specialists facilitated an energetic planting relay. Subsequent workshops will focus on different subject specialisms, harnessing gardening’s potential to inspire children across a range of curriculum areas.

“The level of engagement, enjoyment and collaboration among the pupils was impressive,” said Hazel Baxter, the Music Specialism Lead for the Primary PGCE programme at IOE. "This powerful workshop enabled the student teachers to see how motivation and musical understanding could be enhanced by exploring the pupils’ own outside world.”

Student teachers examining a pine cone as a percussive instrument

A student on the music specialism course spoke of how the workshop “opens your mind to wider possibilities of how music can be taught in schools,” as well as providing “lots of ideas on how nature/gardening can be implemented across the curriculum.”

Dr Jasper Green, Head of Initial Teacher Education at IOE, added: “It's really interesting to see how this work has evolved through the lenses of different subject specialisms, for example, using it to help children understand the interface between human and physical geography. I am so pleased that our Primary PGCE team has established this partnership.”

Jane Lloyd, RHS Schools and Groups Engagement Manager, said: “The RHS’ strategy seeks to embed gardening skills at an early stage. It is our hope that student teachers will take school gardening knowledge and awareness into their placements and future schools, giving more young people the chance to begin their lifelong adventure with gardening.” 

Newly designed lesson plans, linked to the National Curriculum, which our student teachers put into practice during the workshops, can be accessed from the RHS’s Campaign for School Gardening website.

Related links


Campaign for School Gardening, Royal Horticultural Society.