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Developing ecological literacy in a forest garden: Children's perspectives


Forest gardens can be used to foster children’s ecological literacy

The effectiveness of school gardens for promoting student achievement and holistic child development is well-documented in the academic literature. The use of forest gardens to achieve similar benefits for school children is less well understood. This study addresses this gap in the literature. Forest gardens are defined as “multifunctional, multi-layered, polyculture ecosystems designed by humans to produce fruit, berries and robust edible perennials.” School gardens tend to have a more limited scope, both in terms of what is produced and in relation to sustainability goals. School gardens are usually vegetable gardens and rarely include perennials. Forest gardens, on the other hand, tend to feature a variety of perennials, some producing edible sprouts in the early spring and berries in the fall. Additionally, education for sustainability tends to be more of a focus of forest gardens than of typical school gardens. Some schools develop forest gardens on their school grounds; other schools visit forest gardens in different community settings.

The setting of this research was a forest garden in Sweden located approximately a one-hour bus ride away from the two schools participating in the study. This forest garden is used for educational purposes but is maintained by a non-profit organization. Most of the children participating in this study had been visiting the site four times a year over a period of three years. Researchers used walk-and-talk conversations and informal interviews with the children to gain an understanding of their perspectives of the forest garden. The walk-and-talk conversations were supported by photos taken by the children during their walk with a researcher. During the walks and the follow-up interviews, the children were asked to share information about what they usually do in the forest garden, what they could learn in the forest garden, and what they did not like in the forest garden.

Many children expressed strong positive feelings about the forest garden and their experiences in the garden. Their responses also suggested that the forest garden experience was effective in promoting the children’s ecological literacy. Education for ecological literacy promotes an understanding of how humans’ interactions with ecosystems can be done in a sustainable way. Different aspects of ecological literacy evident in the children’s responses included practical competence, learning how to co-exist and care, and biological knowledge and ecological understanding. Overall findings indicate that forest gardens can be used to foster ecological literacy.



Hammarsten, M., Askerlund, P., Almers, E., Avery, H., Samuelsson, T., (2019). Developing ecological literacy in a forest garden: Children's perspectives. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning,, 19(3), 227-241.


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