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 been thinking about, especially when I see some centre's with successful gardens and others not quite so much. 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?


Tamariki need to learn that plants are living things and explain that when they pull them out of the garden then they are hurting them. The plants will not be able to grow big and strong and produce flowers or food for us. The same goes for pulling leaves off trees or shrubs. This can be likened to pulling a friend’s hair. It hurts the plants. If they want to use leaves in their play then teach them to pick up leaves that have already fallen to the ground. By likening the care of plants to the care of themselves and each other, tamariki will learn to respect the garden and the plants within their environment.

I recently read about a centre that successfully placed a rahui (a temporary restriction to protect a resource) on some flowers that were being picked by tamariki as they came into the centre. They drew on their knowledge of  Te Ao Maōri and talked with ngā tamariki about the importance of not picking the flowers so that they would be there for everyone to enjoy. This may be something that could be considered once plants are in the garden. 

Recently, I was planting some seedlings with a group of tamariki and it was still quite cold with frosts happening. We made some cloches for the seedlings out of empty milk bottles. I explained to the tamariki that the plants needed to be kept warm at night, just like they do when they have their blankets on their bed at night. The tamariki took this on board and their kaiako have told me that they have been very diligent at covering the seedlings at night. They are taking responsibility for them. Likewise the same group of tamariki have been watering and fertilising their seedlings to make them strong and healthy, just like the food and water they eat to make themselves grow strong.

By likening the care of the plants to the care of themselves, these tamariki have been learning about respect of the seedlings they have planted. They have learnt to carefully remove a seedling from a pottle and holding it by the leaves, to plant it in the hole they have dug. Each fortnight when I visit the centre to work with the tamariki in the garden they take great pleasure in showing me how they have cared for their plants and how they are growing strong. They have learnt how to manaaki the seedlings in their garden and they have become kaitiaki too, as they remind their friends that they need to look after their seedlings.

I have also noticed, and teacher's have shared with me, that tamariki who demostrate a strong connection to the work they have been doing in the garden will also monitor their peers as well. They will tell them not to pull out the plants, or report it to their kaiako. When all teachers, including relievers, give a consistent message about not pulling out plants or picking leaves/flowers from the garden, they are reinforcing the message of respect.

I am also a strong advocate for there to be dedicated gardening tools that are only used in the garden and not in the sandpit or any other place where tamariki may be allowed to dig. I think this teaches tamariki that the garden is a special place, where care and attention is needed to help the plants to grow. I also think that this teaches them the difference between digging in the garden and digging in the sandpit – there are different purposes to each activity. As they learn that digging in the garden is for the purpose of looking after plants, they are learning to respect the garden and what is growing in it.

I believe that if we engage tamariki in the entire gardening process, from seed sowing, to planting seedlings and caring for them as they grow, that tamariki will develop respect and a sense of responsibility for the plants in their environment and hopefully they will no longer pull the plants out of the garden.

If you want to know more about the contents of this blog, or would like to find out more about Growing Kiwi Gardeners and how I can help you, then contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone on 021 0478 844

If you have enjoyed this blog post, why not see my post titled Gardening Tools - To have or not to have