Children want more 'green time' and less 'screen time' at school

18 May 2023
More than half (55%) of students in primary and secondary school want to spend time outside in nature as a reward for good work instead of free time in front of a computer screen.

School Food Matters, the charity that provides fully funded food education programmes in schools, surveyed almost 500 pupils to get children’s views on the value of spending time in nature.

The survey found that two in three students (66%) felt they didn’t get enough time out in nature, and wanted more. Over a third (37%) said they have never seen fruit or vegetables growing.

These findings support School Food Matters’ message that every school should have a garden, one that it will be taking to the Chelsea Flower Show next week.

Stephanie Slater, Founder and Chief Executive of School Food Matters, said:

“Over the past 15 years we have worked in thousands of schools and we are passionate about getting children outdoors, learning how food grows. We want every child to understand the benefits of good food for their health and happiness and one of the best ways to engage children and young people is to get them to grow food themselves, have fun and explore their natural world. Our new survey backs up what we see every day in schools; children really value access to nature, and too many know little or nothing about where their food comes from.”

“The School Food Matters Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show gives us an invaluable opportunity to raise awareness of our work and gather support for our quest to ensure that every child in every school has access to a garden. We are backed by teachers, child health experts, and nutritionists who have all clearly expressed the many benefits of time out in a natural environment as part of the school day.”

A 2020 University of Adelaide review of 186 studies found that time spent in nature is far better for children and adolescents’ mental health and academic achievement than time spent in front of a screen.

Shanaz Rahman, Learning Mentor at Robert Browning Primary School in Southwark, said:

“Our school is so fortunate to have an amazing rooftop garden, partly funded by School Food Matters. It really is an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle. The garden is used all year round to support the children with their learning, and plays a vital role in their emotional well-being. We also use it to help children have a calm transition back into class if they’re ever feeling angry or upset.”

Mark Dale-Emberton, Principal at Charlton Park Academy in Greenwich, said:

“We are in a highly urban area and most of our students live in flats without any garden or outdoor areas. Our outside spaces provide an oasis, a much-needed escape for our students, offering a peaceful and calming environment where they can unwind, recharge, and find solace away from computer screens and artificial life.”

While most primary schools in the UK have a garden, research shows that the majority lack the funds and staff to make the most of it. It’s a similar story for many secondary schools. This year, School Food Matters’ School Garden Grants programme, funded by Whole Kids Foundation, awarded £70,000 in grants to schools across London, helping them transform their green spaces.

The School Food Matters Garden at the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show will promote young people’s access to nature and outdoor learning. The garden, designed by Harry Holding Studio and funded by Project Giving Back, will be entirely child-centric, climate resilient and feature 80% edible plants. The garden will be located at B019 in the Pavilion. After the show, the garden will be relocated and reimagined for two primary schools – one in London, one in Liverpool – so they can be a learning resource enjoyed by children for years to come.

Ends

Notes to Editors

School Food Matters received survey responses from 467 schoolchildren across nine primary and secondary schools.

More comments:

Elizabeth Bart-Williams, School Business Manager at St Monica's Catholic Primary School in Hackney, said: “In the built-up area where we are located, our garden and outside spaces provide an opportunity for our pupils to connect with nature, learn about the food that we eat or simply take in nature with all the senses. We find that the garden provides a good ‘time-out’ for our SEN children too.

“Our partnership with School Food Matters further enables our students to participate in a food education programme that promotes healthy eating habits and cultivates confidence through growing fruits and vegetables in the garden, which we use in the kitchen to prepare their meals. The garden is a powerful reminder of the positive impact of nature-based experiences on our students' well-being and academic success.”

  • For more information or to request interviews please contact the School Food Matters media team by emailing press@schoolfoodmatters.org
  • For information on Harry Holding or detail on the garden design please contact Emma Mason emma@emmamasonpr.co.uk
  • School Food Matters (SFM) exists to teach children about food and campaigns for healthy, sustainable school meals. The charity provides fully funded food education programmes to schools and uses its 15 years of experience delivering these programmes to inform and strengthen its campaigns, bringing the voices of children, parents and teachers to government policy. 
  • Harry Holding is a multi-award-winning designer whose design practice Harry Holding Studio, has sustainability and resilience at the core of everything they do. All the way from innovative design concepts to aftercare practices they aim to minimise environmental impact and carbon footprint. Sourcing materials locally and designing resilient plant communities to create rich, biodiverse ecosystems, their gardens are designed to last and enhance the lives of their clients and the natural world. Find out more here
  • Project Giving Back (PGB) is a unique grant-making scheme that provides funding for gardens for good causes at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. PGB was launched in May 2021 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on UK charitable fundraising. It will fund gardens inspired by a range of good causes at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2022, 2023 and 2024. PGB will fund 15 gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2023. In total, PGB plans to fund 42 gardens at the show from 2022 – 2024. (Applications for 2022 and 2023 are now closed.)