Ways to help children learn from gardening
Maudie Kelly, MS
Human Development Specialist
Now that spring
is upon us, it is only a few short weeks away when we begin to think about
summer gardens. I grew up in a home where we had a very large garden that
provided lots of fresh vegetables and fruits into the fall. My mother canned and
froze many containers of those same fruits and vegetables that we could eat all
When my children were little, I felt like I did not really have time to do any gardening with them, between work and home responsibilities, but my middle daughter decided she wanted to have a garden when she was about 10 years old. So we picked out a small plot of ground in the backyard, borrowed a tiller to work the soil, decided what we wanted to grow, bought seeds, and planted a garden.
As she watched the different plants grow, my daughter was excited to see the changes even a day could make. She learned about keeping plants watered and pulling weeds. Unfortunately, she also learned that rabbits and other critters also liked her plants. Since we had not fenced our garden, most of it was enjoyed more by the critters than our family! We salvaged some leaf lettuce and a few tomatoes, but that was about all. We did, however, learn lessons about what to do for future gardens.
Because children are naturally curious, they can learn many lessons through gardening and associated activities. What child doesn’t like to play in the dirt, make mud pies, or check out the bugs and worms? Aside from this, other educational aspects of gardening might include:
· Science. Talk about the life cycle of a plant. What does it need to grow? Ask questions about environmental aspects—what will happen if it gets too cold, rains too much or not enough? Which seeds grow faster?
· Math. Many math skills can be involved in planting a garden, such as measuring the space, counting seeds, spacing the seeds or plants, or comparing the sizes of seeds.
· Art. Children can draw pictures of plants or possibly make a series of pictures of the vegetable or fruit from a seed as it grows to a full plant. They can make their own row markers by drawing a picture of the plant on a piece of paper or cardstock, then covering it with clear contact paper.
· Language & Reading. Many libraries have books about gardening that parents can read with their children. Look at seed catalogs and let children help choose what to plant. As it gets closer to harvest time, help them look for recipes that might use items they have grown.
Here are other ways children can learn from gardening activities:
· Making a scrapbook of pictures, drawings, stories, and other artwork can help children tell the story of their efforts at gardening.
· Children can gain a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from caring for something over time.
· Children learn patience and responsibility as they learn that plants take time to mature and will do much better if watered and weeded properly.
· As part of harvesting products from the garden, children can learn compassion by giving surplus food to a food pantry, shelter, or needy family.
· Most importantly, children will enjoy the special family time involved in a gardening project in which their opinions are valued and they are given some choices in deciding what to grow.