A polytunnel can be a wonderful resource for parents. As well as being a place to grow food and flowers and other plants, a polytunnel can also be a classroom of sorts, where children can learn a wide range of lessons that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.
Types of Lessons Children can Have in a Polytunnel
In this article we will discuss ten key lessons that children can learn. But there are a wide range of lessons children can enjoy in a polytunnel – often without even realising that they are learning at all. On the polytunnel curriculum, if you will, you might find:
- English (as they broaden their vocabularies with a wide range of horticultural and botanical terms).
- Maths (as they count species, seeds, or days and months, and work out calculations regarding the growing activities in year-round food gardening).
- Sciences (as children learn more about the natural world, their scientific skills can grow, and they will learn plenty about biology, chemistry and physics).
- P.E. (as children learn how to undertake a range of simple garden maintenance jobs, and simply run around having fun in the garden, their physical fitness, strength and dexterity will surely grow).
You may often find that children can learn just as much helping you in your polytunnel as they can do at school.
But polytunnel gardening lessons children can have as they enjoy time with you in your garden can also teach them broader and more wide reaching lessons, that are not necessarily top priorities for the national curriculum.
Here are ten top lessons children can learn in a polytunnel, through a range of different means:
Lessons About Nature:
These first lessons are about the natural world. Children these days can be surprisingly and worryingly divorced from nature. But in a polytunnel, you can bridge the gaps and make sure that your children understand the natural world and feel connected to it. For example, key lessons that they might learn include:
The Cycles of Nature
Understanding the cyclical nature of our world is an important lesson to learn, not only for children but for everyone. By working and playing in a garden, children will discover the cycles of nature for themselves – birth, life, death and rebirth – nature’s own recycling schemes – how we can feed the soil, which feeds plants, which in turn feed the soil once more… Simply by engaging with the garden, they will come to see the simple fact that everyone comes back around.
That Plants are Just as Amazing as Animals
Many people, as they reach adulthood, simply overlook plants almost entirely. As animals, we are drawn instinctively to other animals – to fast movement and active behaviours. Plants often become nothing more than a pleasant backdrop as we age. Gardeners learn to see plants for the amazing organisms that they are. One of the lessons children spending time in a polytunnel can learn is just how amazing plants really are. They are very different to us, and so we do not always recognise them as complex living beings. But one might argue that though they work on a different time scale and operate rather differently, they are, in some ways, more similar to us than they are different.
How Everything Works Together in the Natural World
Those spending time in a polytunnel, no matter their age, learn the important lesson of the interconnectedness of the natural world. When we look at an organic garden, be it inside a polytunnel or outdoors, we soon see that looking at individual plants is not enough to understand it. All the plants and animals above the soil, and the soil web beneath, works as a whole to form the garden ecosystem. One of the lessons children can learn in a polytunnel is not to become one of those who can’t see the wood for the trees.
That Human Beings Are Not the Only Beings at Work in a Garden
Human beings tend to have an anthropocentric view of the world. But one of the lessons children can learn in a polytunnel is that humans are not the only ‘gardeners’ at work. By teaching children about the bacteria, fungi and other creatures who help us in our growing endeavours, and keep the natural cycles functioning smoothly, we can help them avoid becoming an adult who sees humanity as above, and separate from nature.
Lessons About Life:
Gardening in a polytunnel can also help children towards a better understanding of and outlook for life in general. Here are just three of the key lessons children can learn about life when they help you, and spend time in a polytunnel garden:
The More We Put In, The More We Get Out
Polytunnel gardening can give kids a great work ethic. It can teach them the value of hard work. By showing them that hard work can bring rewards (in the form of a harvest, and in other yields), you can make sure that you raise children who will be hard working and conscientious throughout their lives. You will raise people who understand the impact of their own actions, and see clearly that they can be the catalysts for all sorts of positive change.
Not Everything Goes According to Plan (But Often, Things Work Out Anyway).
Of course, not everything in a polytunnel garden will go according to plan. A garden is a microcosm of life – there are things we can control, and things that we cannot. One of the most important lessons children can learn is not to give up or opt out when everything is not going their way. A polytunnel garden can teach them that plans often go wrong, and that sometimes, that can actually be the best thing – and things can still work out well in the end, even after the most depressing of garden disasters.
We Shouldn’t Put All Our Eggs in One Basket
Seeing the ups and downs of polytunnel gardening can also help children to understand the old adage that we should not put all our eggs in one basket. Organic gardeners can teach their children the importance of diversity and show them exactly what that means in their polytunnel garden. Yes, things can go wrong, but children will soon see that spreading the risk and including plenty of different plants will mean that the likelihood that everything will go wrong is significantly decreased. That lesson can them be extrapolated into many other areas of life, where diversity is also a truly important and valuable thing.
Practical Skill Lessons Children Can Learn in a Polytunnel:
Finally, it is not only intellectual lessons but also practical skill lessons children can learn in a polytunnel garden. Here are three of the top lessons those with a polytunnel can and should teach their kids:
Lessons in Growing Their Own Food
Of course, the gardening itself is an important life skill, especially when we are talking about growing food. Showing children how to grow food will not only teach them where food comes from, and help them appreciate it more, it will also teach them something that will continue to enhance their lives as they grow, and stand them in good stead in our fast-paced and swiftly changing world.
Lessons in Identifying Plants and Wildlife
Children can also learn how to recognise and identify plants and animals, which can also be a valuable skill in life. They could use it to determine how best to deal with a plant pest. They could use it to see how well their efforts to attract wildlife are doing. They may even be able to use their skills to forage, and survive in the wild.
Lessons in Preserving or Cooking Food
Finally, those who grow food in a polytunnel are also well placed to teach their children lessons about preserving or cooking the food they grow. This is an import lesson children can learn as it will make it easier for them to be self-sufficient in future, and to keep themselves fed and healthy when it is time for them to get out there and take care of themselves.
These are, of course, just a few examples of the lessons children can learn in a polytunnel. What do you think are the most important things you or your kids have learned in your garden? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.