School garden literacies: Educating for sustainability

Year: 2012

Author: Green, Monica

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The proliferation of food garden initiatives in Australian primary schools brings new opportunities for curriculum expansion and renewal, particularly in relation to the notion of sustainability. At a time when education for sustainability has been identified as a key priority within the new national curriculum, gardens are best described as 'meeting places' (Massey, 2005) that generate new literacy and language practices that deepen children's understanding of sustainability. My contributions to the broader discussion of place, sustainability and literacy stems from an interest in the ways children are brought into direct contact with notions of sustainability via garden-based pedagogies. In this paper I specifically ask the questions: What are the new languages and literacies that emerge from garden practices? How do garden-based pedagogies bring children into contact with these new literacies, and how might such literacies stimulate and shape relations between children and the garden place?


The paper will draw on research conducted in three Australian schools (two in Victoria, and another in Tasmania) during 2007-2011. This study used theories of place inhabitation, relationships to food, place ecologies, and place-based pedagogies to examine the educational value of food gardens and related environmental and health initiatives in primary (elementary) schooling in Australia. The research used ethnographic and arts-based auto-ethnographic methodologies to identify the practices of school food gardens and school ground ecologies. Across the study 53 children aged between 8-12 years, three gardening/environmental education teachers and three principals from three Australian primary schools worked ethnographically with the researcher. Data were primarily derived from semi-structured face-to-face and 'walking' interviews. Other key artefacts included children's mapping work, field notes from direct observations, photos, the researcher's journal and sewn representations of place.


In this paper I argue that garden-based pedagogies play a critical role in providing spatial, temporal and geographical literacies across the curriculum. In this light, school food gardens have the capacity to become a 'meeting place' that supports different versions of, and ways to understand, literacy. The pedagogies that enable these literacies are vital ingredients of a curriculum that educates for sustainability.