Learn to Grow! The Fun of Gardening For Children
The process of gardening incorporates play and hands-on activity—two things vital to a child’s learning experience. Although gardening might simply be a hobby for adults, it can open up a whole new world for children. From the planning stage until harvest time, gardening provides children with endless opportunities to explore while learning math and science concepts, as well as social science lessons without ever realizing they’re learning. Gardening with children can be as simple as a one-pot container garden on the patio or a larger garden plot. Learning to grow a garden can be fun, providing you with months of time in which to explore, learn, and discover with the children in your life.
The Planning Stage
Young children, especially, don’t realize there’s a right and wrong time to plant outdoors. Use this as an opportunity to talk about the seasons and learn about the proper planting zone for your area. If you’re a few weeks away from frost-free weather, you can work a little math into the wait-period. Count down the days until you and your children can begin planting your garden by marking them off on a calendar.
Unless you garden annually, it’s wise to start off small when gardening for the first time with a child. If you’re ready to take on a larger project, it’s important to choose the style of garden you want to plant. Container gardens are ideal when space is limited, such as on an apartment balcony. A larger garden plot dug in the ground or built on a raised bed provides ample room for a variety of seeds and plants.
As you plan your garden together, you can create a garden scrapbook. Use the scrapbook to write about your gardening experience and have your child add the pictures. Throughout the summer months your garden scrapbook can be updated with anecdotes, drawings, photographs and other information. After harvest time, you’ll have a book that commemorates the garden you and your child created together.
Preparing Your Garden Space
Children enjoy exploring new things. Showing your child the tools and supplies used while gardening is an important part of learning about the entire process. It’s best not to assume that older children know what each tool is for. Instead, allow the process of becoming familiar with each tool to be a hands-on lesson. Younger children will benefit from using child-sized gardening tools.
Once you’ve familiarized your child with the garden tools it’s time to choose the location for your garden. Be sure to consider convenience and proximity to a water source so it’s not difficult to provide your garden with the care it needs. If you’ve decided to use a large garden plot it should be dug up ahead of time, but you and your child can prepare plant pots for a container garden together. Ensure that old clothes are worn so your child can get dirty and participate in the process as much as possible.
Preparing the soil for planting paves the way for teaching your child about caring for soil. Just as the body needs vitamins and minerals, soil requires nutrients too. Soil preparation time is an opportunity to explore such gardening supplies as compost or peat moss and talk about how they help the soil. If fertilizer is being added to the soil, do this alone to prevent your child from direct contact with chemicals.
Planting the Garden
Although gardening is a fun activity, measures should be taken to ensure it’s safe, too. Small children should be supervised at all times while handling tools and when around dirt. Work side-by-side with your child to explain and model how to plant the seeds or young plants. Maximize hands-on opportunities for your child by allowing them to do as much as possible, even if the end-result isn’t neat, straight rows of plants.
Children don’t always understand boundaries when it comes to gardening. Teach your child where to step to avoid harming the plants as well as how to respect the garden area. Waiting for seeds to sprout can be a tough task; help your child pass the time by counting down the number of days until seeds sprout into seedlings, as stated on the back of the seed packets. One of the most magical gardening moments for a child is when the first tiny seedlings start poking through the ground.
Helping Your Garden Grow
A garden requires nurturing and care to produce flowers, fruits or vegetables. As you and your child water the garden weeds sprout alongside the plants. As you show your child how to pull out weeds you can explain how the seedlings need room to grow. Very young children can be overzealous with the weeding process and unknowingly pull out plant seedlings. Guide your child through the weeding process, while keeping in mind it’s likely a few seedlings will be pulled out accidentally.
When your garden grows bigger it will begin to attract insects and butterflies. This expands the learning opportunity even further by giving you the chance to talk about the different creatures seen around the garden. In addition to science you can also incorporate math into your gardening by measuring the plants at different stages of growth. Whether you plan formal lessons throughout the gardening experience or not, there are many teachable moments along the way.
Weeks of waiting for flowers to bloom and vegetables to grow culminate in the excitement of harvest time. Enjoying the fruits of labor presents many sensory experiences as your child gets to smell the flowers and taste harvested fruits and vegetables. Children that aren’t big vegetable eaters are often more willing to try something they helped grow. Incorporate your garden vegetables into meals and snacks, and talk about the taste and texture as you eat them.
If your garden has produced a surplus of flowers or vegetables, use it as an opportunity to teach children about giving. Hand-picked flower bouquets or baskets of surplus vegetables can be brought to a local senior or community center. Call food pantries to see if they accept donations of fresh produce. After spending months nurturing a garden, it can be a wonderful experience for your child to proudly share the fruits of your labor with others in the community.