Have you looked at the food waste that is left over on your kai table after each meal time and thought about where it goes?

According to 'Love Food, Hate Waste' we throw away 157,398 tonnes of food a year in New Zealand. 

However, not all of that wasted food has to go to landfill. You can easily reduce or eliminate it by finding ways some way to compost it. That could be by putting it in local council greenwaste bins (if you are in an area that provides these), or even better set up a composing system with the tamariki in your centre.

One of the things I am often asked by teachers is, “How do we stop tamariki from pulling out plants from the garden?”

This is something I have thought a lot about over the last few months. We teach tamariki to respect each other, ie not to hit and to use their words, so how do we teach them to respect the garden?

I am a fan of early childhood centres making their own compost. What better way to cut down on your waste and carbon footprint, than composting your food and garden waste?

And even better, children learn the cycle of nutrients that comes from the decomposition of waste to release goodness back into the soil.

Every plant that grows in our garden sucks nutrients out of the soil. Overtime the soil becomes depleted of nutrients if we don’t feed it, and our plants won’t grow strong and healthy. Compost helps to replenish the nutrient levels in the soil.

Children love gardening, and learning about soil is a great way to get them involved.

Learning about soil involves digging and getting their hands dirty.

Working with soil helps connect children to Papatūānuku

As teachers we can support them in their interest if we know about soil too. We all know that plants need soil to grow, but is our soil healthy and will it support our plants to grow strong?

Soil is not just dirt; it is a lively ecosystem of micro-organisms that decompse organic material and turn it into humus-rich goodness that our plants need to grow healthy and strong.

Mulch – what is it?

Mulch is a thick layer of organic matter that is laid on top of the soil to protect it and the plants that grow in it. It is like an insulating blanket for the soil, keeping moisture levels more consistent, and protecting the soil from weather that can deplete nutrients. 

Mulch is an important element of gardening. It creates a habitat for micro-organisms and other creatures that inhabit our gardens, like worms and other insects who feast on the mulch, improving the quality of the soil by turning it into humus - that dark crumbly organic material that helps soil to be loose and friable so nutrients can easily move around.


 Health and Safety, those three small words that can create such anxiety.

And when it comes to gardening with children in an early childhood setting, those three small words can be an even greater concern, but they don’t need to be. The health and safety issues are outweighed by the benefits children gain from gardening. However, they do need to be discussed and addressed.

Engaging children in regular and on-going gardening practices provides a range of benefits for their development. Not only does it give them hands-on access to the natural world and provides learning through all their senses – sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, but gardening also provides positive outcomes for health and well-being, and can support mental health.

Child-sized gardening tools that are used only for gardening is something I feel strongly about


  • Having gardening tools that are kept separately from other tools, such as sandpit tools, and are only used for gardening shows children that digging in the garden has a different purpose to digging in the sandpit.

  • Gardening is for growing things – namely food and flowers.Having tools that children recognise as gardening tools helps them to respect the garden as they learn that they can only dig in the garden when those tools available.

We all know that we need encourage children to get outdoors and into the natural world to benefit their health and well-being. As we are born with an innate connection to nature, it makes sense that time in nature calms us and makes us feel good. However, experiences in nature also offer lots of learning opportunities for young children, as it gives them instant responses through all of their senses as they touch, taste, smell, see and hear what is going on around them. Furthermore, such connections tend to foster an ethic of care for the natural environment and the life systems within it, ensuring the future well-being of the planet.

Often when we hear the word sustainability we think ‘caring for the environment’, reduce, reuse, recycle, gardening etc. However, education for sustainability is more than just looking after the environment. It includes three pillars as set out by the United Nations in 1992 – the Social pillar (includes social and cultural apsects), the Environmental pillar and the Economic pillar (includes political ideologies). These three pillars combine together to become sustainability. Education for sustainability is teaching how these three pillars interact and combine to “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987, chap 2, para.1).

Gardening provides a model for keeping the pillars of sustainability balanced.