Children inherently love to dig in the dirt. They make mud pies, dig up worms, or catch bugs by playing in the dirt. Why not use that fact to start them off as gardeners? You don’t have to be a master gardener to garden with a child. All you have to be able to do is give the child instructions so he knows what to do.
Not only is gardening a worthy lifelong pursuit, it requires math and science to do properly. That shows the child the real life use for some of the things they learned in school. Gardening also stimulates a child intellectually and gets them outside in the sun instead of inside playing computer games. If you do not have a yard, a container garden will work.
It is best to start small when gardening with a child. A six foot by ten foot area is plenty. The first season, only give the child a few different types of seeds to plant. Better yet, let him go to the nursery with you and choose his own seeds or plants. This helps the child feel connected to the project.
Once the seeds are purchased, the child needs to lay out their garden. A piece of graph paper with the size of the garden drawn on it helps children visualize where to plant everything so it has enough room to grow. Math comes in handy here to measure the distance one plant must be from another to grow well.
Gardening also teaches patience. The child plants the seed and then must wait until it germinates to see it grow. Before the vegetable is ready to harvest comes another wait. Children learn to let things happen in their own time.
Children learn responsibility with gardening. Planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting must all be done on nature’s time scale. If plants are not weeded or watered, they die. No work, no harvest.
Is all this work worth it? Research has shown that children that gardening with children, especially in a group setting, provides positive social interaction while they are gardening, harvesting, sharing, preparing, and eating produce. It may also influence children’s’ food consciousness and eating habits.
Another study of nine and ten year old children at a school garden looked at the ways in which gender, length of time working with the garden project, different types of gardening activities, and garden skills learned influenced interests in gardening. This study found that gardening skills was the most important factor in gardening interest. This was followed by participation in planning and management activities, gender, and length of time engaged in gardening activities. It is important to engage children in as many of the planning activities as possible to reap the full benefit of gardening for children.
Teachers were asked to collect data to study preschool and kindergarteners’ learning when they engaged in hands-on activities in the garden. The findings of this study suggest when young children are participating in garden and greenhouse activities they are: (1) communicating their knowledge about the world to others, (2) conveying (and learning to process and manage) emotions, and (3) developing important skills (e.g., initiative, self-confidence, literacy, math, science skills) that will help them be more successful in school and better navigate the world.
In addition, when children grow their own produce, they are more likely to eat the vegetables and fruits they grew, increasing the nutrition in their diet.
What if your school does not have a school garden? You can ask to start one. If there is a teacher that is interested in using a garden to teach their students math or science, you may be able to stimulate interest in your child’s school so they will establish one. If you cannot do that, you can find plenty of resources on the internet to help you grow your own garden and teach your child with it.
There are several places a parent can obtain a gardening based math and science curriculum. One of them is called Growing Minds and is based in Appalachia. It provides lesson plans on their web pages for teachers or parents. The lesson plans are free and range from kindergarten to college. Students are taught how to garden, about insects and when to plant things. They are taught to use math and science to plan their gardens and keep them healthy. As the plants begin having ripe produce on them, the children are taught to eat the vegetables and get to take some home with them. Studies show that children are more likely to eat vegetables they grow themselves.
UGA in Georgia has a nice website that provides lessons for children in Georgia that are aligned with the educational standards for Georgia schools. These lesson plans are for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Although these lesson plans are aimed at children in Georgia schools, they are useful for teaching students in states, particularly Southern states that plant things in the same time frames as Georgia does.
Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) has a set of curriculum guides aligned with Colorado schools. Their goals are as follows:
- Increase students’ daily intake of fruits and vegetables
- Build connections between healthy bodies and healthy gardens.
- Decrease the incidence and likelihood of childhood obesity and diabetes.
- Increase students’ participation in and bonding to their community and their peers.
- Teach the course in a way that augments the current classroom curriculum.
- Increase relevancy of earth and life sciences through hands-on garden and nutrition lessons.
- Basic Concepts
These goals are pursued through gardening activities and lessons that make children aware of their place in the environment.
Finally, the Junior Master Gardener program is available to anyone teaching students. The teacher does not have to be a Master Gardener to participate. Teachers, home school parents, or other adults can guide children through the curriculum by following the extensive guides that are included with this program. The state Extension Office in your county is there to answer any questions you might have while you are working through the program.
Gardening with children teaches many life lessons as well as academic lessons. It may also plant a seed the blooms into a love of gardening -- giving the child a life long hobby.