It is my pleasure to have Francis Smith, the owner of Studio Cultivate, with us. I have already had the pleasure of seeing Francis at work in a nursery. Studio Cultivate’s key principle is to realise horticultural potential in people and places. This to me is awesome and connects children with nature and their local environment and provides so many learning opportunities within settings and extension activities for children to do at home. Of course, I had to ask Francis to write a guest blog for me, to share his amazing work!
“In my previous role working as a landscape contractor I came across many underused and underappreciated outdoor school spaces. In a city where green space is limited I felt it a real shame that their potential for learning, exploration and general fun was often being overlooked. Eighteen months ago I set up the educational wing of Studio Cultivate, with the ambition of revealing to children the importance of plants in almost everything we as humans do, and so bridging the gap between the classroom and the outdoors.
I now spend a large proportion of my week working in nurseries and schools. I can be found in all weathers busy outdoors with excited groups of children engaged in horticulture-themed activities. We sow seeds, water, plant and pot. We prep and cook our harvests and model various mammals and creepy crawlies.
The practical aspect of each lesson provides an ‘in’ or ‘hook’ into sometimes quite specialist subjects. With a touch of anthropomorphism the subterranean world of Nasty Nematodes and Wonderful Waterbears can be brought to life. With the promise of a meal at the end of the session and the knowledge they are eating what they’ve grown, pupils have become fairly adept dicers and will try most ‘yucky’ vegetables. Accompanied by outrageous snoring sounds we have made warm and damp Soil Blankets in order to cajole seeds from deep slumber. With the help of enormous bee and flower models (constructed in class) pupils are getting to grips with the life cycles of plants and the key role played by ‘Busy Bees’ in the process.
Early Years continues to be a highlight in my weekly schedule, increasingly as the spaces they occupy are enriched by our planting and modelling projects. Much has already been written of the numerous benefits of outdoor and plant-growing education. Jamie Oliver is doing a fine job in championing this and yes, it is brilliant and lots of fun. What I have taken most from the last two years, however is a three-year-old’s willingness and ability to embrace many alien and challenging concepts and (with a touch of imagination in the lesson planning) run with them for weeks. I hope they are still hunting for Root Munching Nematodes for years to come.”
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