Wild Wednesdays with Woody the therapy dog

We spoke to Sarah Costello, a teaching assistant at a small primary school in rural Yorkshire, to find out how gardening has become part of school life.

29 April 2024

By letting pupils take the lead, West Bretton Junior and Infant School in Wakefield have created an environment where learning happens both in and outside of the classroom. From therapy dogs to pop up shops, read on for inspiration from the teaching assistant who helped get the school gardening project off the ground in 2023.

1. Wellness with Woody

“We are lucky to have a PAT (Pets as Therapy) dog who attends school regularly. Woody  is a 4-year-old cavapoo who enjoys visiting the children and engaging with their learning. During Children’s Mental Health Week in February, we held a 'Wellness with Woody' session.

Pupils were encouraged to talk about any problems they may have, whilst being outdoors with Woody. This was very well-received by all the children, who enjoyed interacting with Woody by stroking him and talking to him. 

We have all found that having Woody as well as the outdoor learning area, really does help to re-focus some children who are finding learning difficult in the classroom. They can be free when they are outside, without restrictions or confinements of having to sit up straight in a chair.” 

Takeaway idea: Whilst it may not be feasible for all schools to have a PAT dog, there are many ways to boost wellbeing through school gardening. Read this article for ideas and resources. 

“The children adore Woody and look forward to seeing him. They often sit or lay with him and chat with him (and me) about any problems they may have. Together we work out strategies to help and work through any issues.” 

2. Community collaboration

“Our rural school is surrounded by farms. This brings with it a wealth of experience and help from the farming community, who donated seeds, plants and their own time to get us started. We also received 400 trees from the Woodland Trust in our first year of gardening. We invited the children’s families and the local community to help plant them, to establish the boundary of our outdoor area. The event was extremely well-attended, and families enjoyed naming their trees .”  

Takeaway idea: Local communities often have a variety of businesses who could be approached for sponsorship or in-kind support. Builders' merchants might be willing to donate materials such as timber offcuts or pallets for raised beds, garden centres might be able to give plants or seeds and local landscapers or artists could support the creative side of bigger projects. Download our School garden funding toolkit for more ideas.  


3. Cooking up a feast

“We grow ‘plant to plate’ for school lunches – we place our produce on the salad bar at lunch for all pupils to enjoy, to encourage healthy eating. We also leave a selection of harvested vegetables including green beans, courgettes and sweetcorn at the front of the school, for the local community to take home. The children have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the entire process, from planting to harvesting and eventually cleaning and cooking or dressing the produce. They have been incredibly open when it comes to trying new foods as well.” 

Takeaway idea: Research healthy recipes and design a mouthwatering lunch menu inspired by the vegetables grown in your school garden, with our Design a lunch menu resource.

4. Pop up shop

“We held a 'pop up shop' at the end of the school year. The children harvested plants, flowers and produce, made bouquets and seed envelopes and wrote out growing instructions for the purchaser to follow. They staffed the stall, offering advice from the knowledge they had gained throughout the process, and enjoyed engaging with 'customers'. The shop was well-attended by our school community, as well as members of the village. Donations went towards seeds for the following year's crops.” 

Takeaway idea: Involve your pupils in using produce or plants from the school garden to raise money. From origami seed packets and scented lavender bags to tasty potato dishes and DIY bird feeders, find year-round inspiration with our resources.


5. Whole school approach

“Our outdoor growing space is accessible to all our children, with ages ranging from 3 to 11. The year groups take it in turn to attend, with Year 1 and 2 gardening from September to December to help with their transition into a new school year/class, Year 5 and 6 between May and July, following their SATs exams, and other groups in-between. Sessions are held every week (we call them ‘WILD Wednesdays’), covering a range of topics throughout the seasons. The children are also encouraged to access the area independently.” 

Takeaway idea: Gardening is a great way to bring pupils together, with everyone working towards a common goal in a no-pressure environment, regardless of which school year they’re in or who they normally spend time with. Check out these Class Growing topics to see how you can deliver activities based around a common theme, over several sessions.   

“I love WILD Wednesdays - I wish it could be Wednesday every day!” 

- West Bretton Junior and Infant School pupil

6. Key skills and curriculum links

“Some of the benefits of gardening for us include physical activity, teamwork and communication. The children work as a team, discussing what and where to plant, and then how to use the produce. This encourages responsibility, independence and self-confidence. Literacy, numeracy and biology have all benefitted as the children have to read instructions, count seeds and consider the environment.” 

Takeaway idea: There are many ways to link school gardening to the national curriculum. Check out our lesson plans that link to science, art, maths, geography and more. 


7. Plug plants

“A local farmer gave us several plug plants to get us established, along with information on how to grow different types of produce. Together, we encouraged the children to have a go. We planted them, carefully monitored their growth and supported them with canes when needed. We introduced water irrigation into the planters, using recycled bottles of water. The children realised this helped to keep the plants watered whilst cutting down numerous trips to the tap. With the help of the farmers, we were able to harvest a range of produce including potatoes, radishes, purple sprouting broccoli, tomatoes and many more.” 

Takeaway idea: Plug plants can be seeds or cuttings that have been grown in modular trays, and often save time and money when compared to growing from seed or buying larger plants. Find out how to pot them up

8. Let the children decide

“At West Bretton School we have a 'Green Team', who sit down at the start of the year to talk about what they would like to grow in the outdoor learning area. We look at what was successful and unsuccessful in previous years. Last year, the children decided that they would like to grow and harvest plants and produce to use both in the school lunches, but also to give to older members of the community. Allowing the children more freedom has nurtured their self-belief and confidence, and given them the responsibility to look after the produce.” 

Takeaway idea: Whether you have an outdoor space or just a spare windowsill, go through these 10 simple growing activities for each term with your pupils and work out what you’d like to do as a group.

“We strongly believe that the children’s voice in the outdoor area should lead what we do there. If they are interested in a particular area, I will do my best to facilitate and expand their knowledge.”

- Sarah Costello, West Bretton Junior and Infant School Teaching Assistant 

Have you been inspired?

West Bretton Junior and Infant School are proud owners of their Level 1 and 2 RHS School Gardening Awards, and are currently working towards their Level 3, which is all about healthy and planet-friendly gardening. Get started today to take part in this free five-level scheme, with rewards along the way including gardening vouchers, books and seeds. 

Start the School Gardening Awards