Book Review: Outdoor Classrooms

“By growing some of their own food, children form an understanding of food issues: where food comes from, what the plants look like, what part of a plant is edible, and the names of plants.”

‘Outdoor Classrooms, a handbook for school gardens’, by Carolyn Nuttall & Janet Millington. Publisher: PI Productions Photography. ISBN: 978-0-9752177-3-3 (pbk.), 2008.

The sharply rising interest in school food gardens is being driven by children, who are generally more keenly aware of 21st century global environmental issues than many adults realise.

So if you’re a parent and would like your child to learn in the environment as well as about it, or if you’re an educator about to start a school food garden, ‘Outdoor Classrooms’ will help you navigate you way to success.

This much needed book represents the culmination of years of practical work and hard earned ‘insider’ experience of the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of starting school food gardens from scratch.

Successful gardens need sound foundations and this well laid out book is a pretty comprehensive, clearly written guide for a permaculture-style garden, ideal for unconfident and amateur gardeners alike’.

Discussion
I think this work is an invaluable guide as it identifies the generic issues encountered in establishing a school garden and raising the educational benefits offered by them.

Being a permaculture-based guide to school food gardening, this work does not compare or contrast this one strand of horticulture with productive organic growing. Key practices, such as crop rotation, really need to be explained if lifelong educational benefits are the aim.

Being a generic guide, the soil and climate-specific challenges of establishing new gardens in Australia’s diverse bioregions are insufficiently identified.

There is a need to explore the broad concept of ‘stewardship’ as a key educational outcome for children.

Where plant cultivation is regulated, for example the cultivation of bananas, and the management of scheduled weeds, schools should be aware of the legal implications and educational opportunities they represent.

Useful Reading
‘Outdoor Classrooms’ is a much needed addition to the school gardening library. Educators should seek copies of the following books to create a healthy, balanced 21st century school and learning environment:

‘Seed to Seed Food Gardens in Schools’ by Jude Fanton & Jo Immig. A practical permaculture-based gardening guide.

‘Safer Solutions – Integrated Pest Management for Schools and Childcare Centres’ by Jo Immig. Published by The Total Environment Centre Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-947360-18-2.

‘The Toxic Playground – Guide to reducing the chemical load in schools and childcare centres’ by Jo Immig. Published by The Total Environment Centre Inc., 2000. ISBN 0-947360-16-6.

‘The Seed Savers’ Handbook’ by Michel & Jude Fanton. Published by The Seed Savers’ Network, reprinted 2004. ISBN 0-646-10226-5.

‘Safer Solutions in your garden’, organic gardening information from the Total Environment Centre website.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Director, Seed Savers’ Foundation
23rd January 2009