This case study explores a learning situation in a forest garden in Sweden. A forest garden is an edible polyculture landscape with different layers of mostly perennial vegetation. The forest garden is designed to maximize the yield of useful plants while minimizing the input of energy and resources, including human labour. Forest gardens may offer learning situations that contextualize interconnectedness and relations between organisms as well as situations that are beneficial for evaluative development (Kellert, 2002), i.e. the development of values, beliefs and moral perspectives in children.
Twenty-seven seven to eight year old primary school children were followed in the first six months of a three year project in which they participated in developing a forest garden. The aim of the study is to investigate how the children reason with respect to different organisms’ dependence on and relations to each other, themselves included. Specifically:
- How do the children describe their own relationships with other organisms, as well as the relationships between other organisms in the forest garden?
- What values of nature are expressed by the children, and in relation to which situations in the forest garden?
Data were collected in the form of field notes, audio and video recordings and photos from the children’s visits to the forest garden. The photos were used for stimulated recall in focus group interviews. The data were analysed using a combination of qualitative content analysis (Patton, 2002) and semi-quantitative methods.
The children in the study presented a unidirectional perspective about the relationship between themselves and the organisms, especially the insects, in the forest garden. Rather than asking what these organisms can do for me/us, they pose the question: What can I/we do for the bugs/plants/ bees?
The humanistic values, expressed by the children as a willingness to help other organisms (mostly insects) are in line with the explicit aims of the former curriculum for Biology to “promote care and respect for nature”. We should note that these humanistic values are no longer explicitly stated in the current curriculum. It is striking that the anthropocentric ecosystem services perspective (introduced in the current curriculum from grade 4), is so rare in the data. The children seldom mentioned the benefits for humans from insect pollination, even though this relationship is clearly stated by the pedagogues together with humanistic values.
In observations, the children showed a great deal of curiosity for the natural environment (naturalistic value) as well as joy and enthusiasm about participating in the different activities that took place in the forest garden. Aesthetic values were expressed in relation to flowers, cones, berries, a snail’s shell etc.
This study shows that forest gardens have the potential to be places where children can connect emotionally and cognitively to other organisms.
2016. Vol. 20, 187-197 p.