So many fun things you can learn in the garden. I’m in the digging stage of putting in a vegetable garden and it made me remember some of our past gardening experiences, when the boys were young. No matter what the age of your kids, or the subject you’re teaching, keeping a garden can be a great tool for your school. Here are a few of the things we have done in our garden, along with a few I’m trying this year. Most of the following can be used whether you just have a patio with pots, or an acre of land. I’m starting with some activities for the preschool, early kindergarten stage…but that is not to say that your older kids wouldn’t have fun with these.
If your children are in preschool and early elementary school everything in the garden is a fascinating lesson. Watching the miracle of seeds developing into plants, flowers, and vegetables never gets old. A favorite activity for the young is to take a few bean seeds, soak them for an hour or two to get them started, then take a clear glass and fill it with damp paper towels. Place a few seeds around the edges of the glass so that they can be viewed from the outside but are still in contact with the damp paper towels. Don’t allow the paper towels to dry out. I had my boys draw pictures each day (or twice a day if there is a lot happening) of the changes in the seed. They may want to carefully measure the seed to see if it swells before the root breaks forth. As they watch they will see the root emerge, the original stem, and the first leaves unfurl. . Although the glass allows us to view what would normally be going on under the soil, there is a lot going on inside of the seed as well. I’d suggest getting a few books on seeds from the library before you start.
Another fun activity for the younger set is to get a fast growing seed like radishes, have the kids write their names in the dirt with their fingers, then sprinkle in the seeds. In a few weeks time they will have their name in the garden. Take a picture and enjoy a salad.
One year (so sad I can’t find the pictures) we planted a square of tall sunflowers with one opening, then, once the plants were about 4 inches tall, we planted morning glories around their base. As the sunflowers grew the morning glories climbed the stalks. With some careful twining and few well placed strings we were able to train the morning glories to make a roof and we had a gorgeous flower clubhouse. When the clubhouse ‘bloomed’ it was truly extraordinary. Adding to the fun were the butterflies and birds that came to hang out in our clubhouse.
It seems young children can’t get enough of little hiding places, so if the sunflower house seems a bit extravagant another option is a bean tepee. All you need to do is make a tepee out of some long sticks or PVC pipe you might have around the house. (Pieces long enough to make a tepee a child could climb into.) Then run and tie string around most of the pieces leaving an opening. Plant 2-3 bean seeds (makes sure they are a climbing variety and not a bush.) at the base of each stick. As the plants begin to climb and send out tendrils help your children to observe closely. The tendrils will always wind the same direction and many of the tendrils in between plants will make themselves into curlicues. This is to protect the plant during growth and in the wind because the tendrils now have some give and won’t become taut and snap. As the beans mature they will hang down into the tepee and children can harvest them while they play. My boys liked to take a book into their tepee and ‘read’.
Science and botany aren’t all that can be going on in your garden. How about keeping a gardening journal with careful observations, poems, and illustrations. This can be a spring writing project, the possibilities of what to include are endless. With a little intentional thought on the part of mom this could be your Language Arts time and what child would object to a lesson outside sitting in the garden drawing and writing about the plants they’ve grown. They can keep track of the insects and wildlife that visit their garden. They can group those animals into beneficial and harmful categories. A journal can be both practical observations and a time to be creative with stories, poems, songs, and illustrations that the garden inspires.
Reading time is easy to incorporate into the garden. You may choose to check out books on plants and gardening, or maybe instead read some great literature. How about a cozy chair in the garden where you can read about Pooh’s adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods. Most little girls would love to sit in their sunflower house and read or be read to ‘The Secret Garden’. For the reluctant reader just moving your reading instruction outdoors can be inspiring.
Even math is more exciting when we are in a new place. I’m sure you can come up with garden ideas for addition and subtraction. Older children may want to figure the percentage of seeds that sprouted. Most seeds need to be thinned to a certain number of inches apart (don’t worry directions are on the seed packet) so it’s a great time to get familiar with using a ruler.
In ‘Learning in the Garden Part 2″ we’ll look at ideas for older students and how to incorporate history into your garden.
So get outside, get your hands dirty and play in the mud. Oh mud, maybe you could make some relief maps….. I’ll stop now.