Learning to Get our Hands Dirty!

Most schools in the UAE purport a mission of holistic learning, 21st century education and innovative teaching methods. To differentiate how they attain these goals, some schools are incorporating outdoor and nature-based experiences into the curriculum. The Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai prides itself in having an organic garden to teach children gardening skills, connect curriculum with hands-on inquiry, and build an appreciation for real food.

Healthy foods make healthy kids

Although Dubai is such a wealthy place to live, children continue to consume large amounts of junk food and fast food. Steven Ritz, founder of Green Bronx Machine and Green Initiative Educator visited the KHDA and spoke to educators about the importance of gardening in getting children off the “fast food and junk food train”.

According to Mrs. Lall, Head of Early Years at SISD, “vegetables and fruits have become a ‘yuck!’ factor”, since they don’t look as attractive as the processed and packaged foods children are used to. When gardening, however, children are planting, watering, growing, cutting, washing and bagging foods themselves. Especially in the early years, Lall explains, “children wait in anticipation for their plants to grow”. Building a relationship with foods, recognizing their taste and understanding where they come from ensures that children look at salads and vegetables with appreciation and respect.

Curriculum brought to life

Studies show that children who learn in an outdoor environment retain information more readily. This innovative teaching strategy helps students to increase their grasping power. Lall outlines that “digging, gardening, playing in the mud kitchen, and socializing with peers helps build empathy, interconnectedness, as well as academic skills.” The gardens also get children out of the classroom, into nature, sunlight and fresh air, helping them de-stress.

Organic gardens are used to teach topics like pollination, habitats and ecosystems in younger years, and farming, economics and agriculture in higher grades. Children also study the water cycle and perform simple experiments on plants. They watch their seedlings sprout and grow into edible plants, allowing them to connect and participate in a universal life process and learn about interdependence between people and nature.

Gardens grow more than just food, they grow communities!

Organic gardens foster a sense of community within schools because they unite children across grade levels and encourage parents to participate in learning. Parents with a ‘green thumb’ volunteer to garden and teach children about pruning, washing and bagging of fresh salads. Lall explains that, “these bags of fresh arugula are given to parents when harvested”, and that in the future, “once the garden is thriving, we will start to sell fresh produce in a school market”. This will promote older children’s involvement and strengthen their understanding of economics, markets and farming.

Schools that practice what they preach

To fully equip children for the future, creating “21st century learners” is a major goal and mission for almost all schools today. Incorporating an organic garden accomplishes this goal from a unique angle because it teaches children the basics of food production and self-sustenance in an unknown and unforeseeable future. “At the end of the day”, Lall expresses, “we are teaching children a skill. Gardening and growing your own food is a vital skill that you won’t lose once learned. No matter what happens with food distribution in the future, children can fend for themselves because these children will know how to garden and grow their own food”.

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