Erasmus + changes lives

A.9.Engaging Children in Critical Dialogue Through Garden Activities_ Strategies for Educators

Garden activities offer rich opportunities for educators to engage kindergarten children in critical dialogue about environmental issues, sustainability, and social justice. In the UrbSTEAM project, educators utilize inquiry-based approaches and open-ended questioning techniques to prompt children to think critically about their experiences in the garden. By encouraging reflection, sharing perspectives, and exploring solutions to real-world problems, educators foster children’s capacity for critical thinking and civic engagement. Through meaningful dialogue, children develop a deeper understanding of complex issues and cultivate the skills necessary to become informed and active participants in shaping a more sustainable future.

Garden-based education offers a fertile ground for fostering critical dialogue among children, empowering them to explore complex environmental issues, develop empathy, and cultivate a sense of agency in addressing social and environmental challenges. The UrbSTEAM project, which focuses on teaching STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) through urban garden-based learning in kindergarten settings, provides valuable insights into strategies for engaging children in critical dialogue through garden activities. This article explores the importance of critical dialogue in garden-based education and offers practical strategies for educators involved in the UrbSTEAM project.

The Importance of Critical Dialogue in Garden-Based Education

Critical dialogue involves engaging children in open, respectful, and reflective discussions about social, environmental, and ethical issues. Through critical dialogue, children develop critical thinking skills, empathy, and a deeper understanding of complex issues. In the context of garden-based education, critical dialogue allows children to explore topics such as sustainability, biodiversity, food justice, and community engagement in meaningful and relevant ways.

Strategies for Engaging Children in Critical Dialogue

Socratic Questioning: Encourage children to ask questions and explore different perspectives by using Socratic questioning techniques. Ask open-ended questions such as “Why do you think plants need sunlight to grow?” or “How can we protect the soil in our garden?” to stimulate critical thinking and promote discussion.

Storytelling and Narrative: Use storytelling and narrative-based activities to engage children in discussions about social and environmental issues. Share stories about plants, animals, and ecosystems, and encourage children to reflect on the themes and messages conveyed in the stories. Create opportunities for children to share their own stories and experiences related to the garden.

Community Circles: Create a safe and inclusive space for children to participate in community circles, where they can share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas with their peers. Use prompts such as “What did you observe in the garden today?” or “How can we work together to solve a problem in our community?” to facilitate meaningful dialogue and collaboration.

Reflective Journals: Provide children with journals or reflection sheets to record their observations, questions, and reflections about their experiences in the garden. Encourage children to write or draw their thoughts and feelings, and use their journals as a tool for self-expression and critical inquiry.

Role-Playing and Dramatization: Use role-playing and dramatization activities to explore social and environmental issues from different perspectives. Invite children to take on roles such as plants, animals, gardeners, or community members, and encourage them to act out scenarios related to topics such as environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture, or community activism.

Lessons from the UrbSTEAM Project

In the UrbSTEAM project, educators utilize a variety of strategies to engage children in critical dialogue through garden activities:

  • Educators facilitate group discussions and reflection sessions to encourage children to share their observations, questions, and ideas about the garden.
  • Children participate in storytelling activities where they learn about the cultural, historical, and ecological significance of plants and gardens.
  • Community circles provide children with opportunities to discuss social and environmental issues affecting their community and brainstorm solutions.
  • Reflective journals serve as a tool for children to document their experiences, thoughts, and feelings about the garden and to engage in self-directed inquiry.
  • Role-playing and dramatization activities allow children to explore complex issues such as food security, environmental justice, and community resilience through creative expression.


Engaging children in critical dialogue through garden activities is a powerful way to foster critical thinking, empathy, and agency in addressing social and environmental issues. By utilizing strategies such as Socratic questioning, storytelling, community circles, reflective journals, and role-playing, educators involved in the UrbSTEAM project can create meaningful learning experiences that empower children to become informed, engaged, and responsible citizens of their communities and the world.


[1] Sengupta, P., & Wilensky, U. (2009). Learning electricity with NIELS: Thinking with electrons and thinking in levels. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4(2), 185-205.

[2] Zeichner, K. (2006). Reflections of a university-based teacher educator on the future of college-and university-based teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(3), 326-340.

[3] Krasny, M. E., & Kudryavtsev, A. (2013). Urban environmental education review. Cornell University Press.

[4] Johnson, B. L. (2019). Cultivating critical thinking through garden-based learning. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 47(2), 17-21.