CHILDREN from a York primary school have teamed up with their teachers and with experts from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to turn part of their school playground into a nature-friendly garden.

During the year-long project they have converted part of the back playground at Haxby Road Primary Academy into beds for growing flowers, herbs and vegetables.

They have also created a new ‘forest school’ area at the front of the school. It includes pathways, a story circle and firepit, an outdoor crafts table, wildflower beds, a den building area, an obstacle course, compost bays, and nature habitats - including a bug hotel built by the children themselves.

The aim of the project – part of the government’s Nature Friendly Schools programme supported by DEFRA and the Department for Education - has been to create a space where children can learn outdoors.

Siobhan Wylie-Gordon, a Year 4 teacher and Haxby Road’s Nature Friendly Schools lead, said the garden meant that children could now have two hours of outdoor lessons every week.

York Press:

Children identifying plants in the new growing beds

“Children across the whole school have been enriched with experiences and opportunities they would have never had before,” she said.

“Children are so excited to learn in our new outdoor area and teachers love using the outdoors to teach. Children who otherwise struggled in the classroom have been given the opportunity to really excel and it’s had such a positive impact on their mental health too. Our outdoor sessions have helped them to see school in a positive light and enjoy learning again!”

Andy Steele, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust education officer who has been closely involved with the project, said: “Over the last decade there has been a wealth of research which shows the benefits of being outdoors - from evidence that spending 15mins in a natural setting lowers stress cortisol levels to studies showing that effective outdoor learning increases pupil engagement, self-esteem and academic achievement.

"Haxby Road are now delivering regular outdoor learning and are starting to see some of these benefits among their pupils.”

York Press:

An outdoor lesson in the new garden at Haxby Road School

The garden project was completed with the help of volunteers from Portakabin UK, who helped with development of the school grounds, and from Greenfields Community Garden, which is opposite the school.

But Mr Steele said children had been involved in the project from the beginning.

“They were consulted about their ideas and compiled a fantastic collection of written and sketched suggestions and requests,” he said.

“Many of these were built into our final design, and the pupils have then gone on to be involved practically - including the building of a bug hotel and the creation of a 'wood cookie' artwork on the rear playground which celebrates their enjoyment of outdoor learning.”