Kids and plants: a reflection on education and gardening by Mariana Martins

I have been thinking, while walking around the paths in Dacres Wood, about the similarities we as educators have with botanists and gardeners. Do not get me wrong, I am an experienced educator, but definitely not a great gardener. I  have killed hydrangeas and tomato trees alike. I realize I do not start this text on my best step, really, but when looking around the reserve, though, at any time of the year, you can find plants as much as kids growing in unusual places. This is my point: it feels natural and it’s lovely to see, I never have to guide them or decide for them. Maybe suggest, which may or may not be accepted. Much on the contrary, kids flow and hide, they run and climb, test their capacities to the full. There isn’t a lot of trimming or feeding going on, it definitely is not a tame plot of land, quite the opposite.  Surprisingly, as much as wild blossoms, they do not need to be watered constantly or even fed profusely. Balancing your plans on how to be adults present for children, as carers, parents, or facilitators – do you opt for a more child-led approach? What is the best choice? how do we go about it –  can in reality have the same effect as how you grow flowers or fruit trees in your backyard: it may or may not go according to your plan. What was carefully designed and prepared may not necessarily work and, conversely, what just popped “out of nowhere” and found solutions for itself along the way can be just perfect. How do we get it right? Ooohh, the million-dollar question. I wish I knew. Some hints of how similar they are:

  • Plants and children are resilient and adaptable. They can grow in a variety of conditions, even in the most unexpected places. I have tried using the same method for teaching and learning from different people, and as much as plants, I can assure you one recipe does not fit all. Some like shade, others the sun. They find where they grow best and if you try to force them elsewhere they will most definitely prove you wrong!


  • Plants are a symbol of hope. So are children. They will save the world. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, plants can still find a way to grow and blossom. Plants are necessary for our very survival. Kids also have a fundamental role in our lives as a society. From our youngest to our oldest in FWG, from the poorest to the richest in varied educational scenarios I worked in, the new beginnings are there, pulsating and vibrant. We just need to love them, really. Guard their flow, see where they want their vine to climb up, and follow their buds.


  • Plants are a reminder that beauty can be found in unexpected places. Do I have to convince you that kids can be found in the most unexpected places? Not really, to be honest parents know that FWG facilitators most definitely do too. A small flower growing in a crack in a log in the courtyard can be just as beautiful as a flower in a garden. In fact, more mesmerizing than a well-behaved properly cultivated blossom. A free-flowing gravity-defying little bud, one of our favourites!

Here are some specific examples of plants and kids growing in unusual places in Dacres Wood:

  • A flower growing in a crack in the pavement. We have loads on the way in Honeyfield Mews, you may have noticed. An upside-down husky type of dog defending himself from do-gooders, throwing magic powers onto bystanders. I know some adults who witnessed this creature.

  • A tree growing out of a rock.  How can it be? Some reeds that were to be taken and chucked away with duckweed in Winter, surprisingly grow up and show themselves in Spring even far away from the pond. Who would have thought?

  • A moss growing on a tree. Someone who is very shy finally taking on a leadership role, either in a meeting or in a play. See how they grow? Who would have expected?

These living things are all growing in unusual places, and they are all thriving. This is a constant and natural reminder that people are resilient and adaptable. They can find a way to grow and blossom even in the most difficult of circumstances. Wild trees are also a reminder that beauty can be found in unexpected places. These are often overlooked, but they are a note that beauty is all around us. Just as botanists study plants, their life cycles, and the intricate ecosystems they inhabit, educators delve into the diverse landscapes of knowledge, understanding, and human development. As much as botanists do, educators possess a deep-rooted passion for exploration. They sow the seeds of curiosity, encouraging learners of all ages to ask questions, to dig deeper, to question themselves, and to uncover the wonders of the world. They create a rich soil of love and compassion, nurturing each individual’s unique needs, talents, and aspirations. Just as gardeners try to provide the optimal amount of sunlight, water, and nutrients, educators do as much as they can to tailor their approaches, adapting their ways and tones to engage people in different ways.

I myself, like a botanist, am a keen observer. I attentively watch the intricate details of kids’ play, identifying areas where my support is more urgent and areas where I can be helping the growth of the community and culture creation. Just as botanists assess the health and vitality of plants, I try my best to make sure our children are understanding of each others’ needs, adjusting my strategies to deal with conflict to ensure the best possible conviviality amongst all of us. Much like gardeners experiment with different techniques to enhance plant growth, I see myself employing a diverse range of pedagogical approaches to cultivate learning, to help myself and the children, who are also my teachers, to learn from observing and listening. I strive to recognize the importance of cultivating a nurturing and inclusive community, aiming every day to create safe spaces for the expression of feelings and respect for the community. When considering the interdependence of plants in an ecosystem, adults holding space for play foster collaboration, and my job as a facilitator in FWG is to protect, care and be a guardian for the understanding that collective growth and learning to thrive in a supportive and interconnected community.

Amazing, right? Fascinating. Does it always work? No, it obviously doesn’t. We are all human, we are all learning together.  And I still have to learn how to look after plants, mind you, but even when I don’t know what else to do, I trust the woods and the lessons it gives us in our day-to-day at FWG. In the presence of nature’s wonders in our reserve, children develop a heightened sense of curiosity, eager to explore and unravel the secrets of the natural world. Not just them, but all of us,  begin to see the world through fresh eyes when we are in nature, perceiving ordinary animals and any phenomena as extraordinary. A simple leaf becomes a delicate work of art, a shimmering spider’s web, a marvel of engineering. Then,  nature’s constantly saving me, literally and metaphorically, rescuing my failed plans in its influence on children’s imaginations and creativity. It requires trust and patience, it most certainly goes beyond the immediate experience. It shapes our perspectives, kids and adults, and nurtures our ability to see beyond. And I am forever grateful for this newfound appreciation for the wonders of the natural world extending to other realms of all our lives, infusing creative endeavors, problem-solving skills, and capacity for innovation with boundless possibilities. So, yes, I am also a learner at FWG. (Not yet a gardener, though)