What Children Can Learn from Gardening:
Normal gardening experiences can reinforce academic skills with your children—and so much more!
By Carol J. Alexander
I cannot remember a time in my life when not surrounded with growing things. As an adult, I absolutely adore my garden, and I’ve taught my children the same. Each of them began their gardening careers on the sidelines in a playpen. From there, they not only learned gardening but math, language, science, home economics, and more—all while growing our food. You don’t have to be a homeschooling parent to appreciate lessons from life. It is so rewarding to watch our kids ‘get it’—while doing something as simple as planting corn. You see that ‘aha’ expression and ask what it is about, and he replies, “Now I know why eight times four is 32.”
It’s time to prepare our gardens. As of now, the Weather Report for March 2021 is nothing below 40 degrees at night and daytime temperatures not less than 60 degrees. So you should start now. Planning what to plant, buying seeds, and starting seeds are all activities that kids love to do. But what about stretching those activities into the academic side of life? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
• Decide in advance which tasks are age-appropriate for each child and make a chart.
• Take the kids to a store that sells seeds and let them pick out a bunch of packets.
• Decide if you will start the seeds indoors in Jiffy pots or wait until March to plant directly in the garden soil. Purchase the supplies during February.
• Look at each label with your children. Does it give the weight of the seeds or the count? Verify it. Weigh the seeds. Count the seeds. If 25 seeds weigh x grams, how much would 100 seeds weigh? Create more problems like this.
• Look up how many seeds of a particular vegetable you need for a row in your garden. Have your child measure the row, then figure out how many seed packets he would need to plant a row (or more) in your garden.
• Have your child write her own description and planting instructions from the back of the packets.
• Don’t throw those seeds away. Start saving seeds from your children’s favorite fruits and vegetables. Have your kids research and record each one to discover its needs to achieve the greatest success.
• Next time you leave a couple of potatoes on the counter too long and they start to sprout, cut them into a few pieces saving as much potato as possible with each sprout, and bury them in a mound of dirt. Potatoes grow a big plant above ground, but of course the edible parts are the roots. After the foliage dies down, kids will love digging in the dirt for buried treasure: a messy and deeply satisfying task.
Once the weather warms up and your seedlings are hardened off, planting season begins. Again, kids love this activity. What can be more fun than digging in the dirt? Here are a few more things they can learn in the process:
• A good layer of straw, grass clippings, or compost around your plants will hold moisture in the soil and deter weeds. Try this experiment with them. Plant identical rows side by side. Mulch one row; but allow the other to remain bare. Keep a record of the two rows. Does the one require more water? Compare the weed growth between the two. Which plants appear to be healthier? Record your findings. Have the child take pictures to add to the notes.
• Our garden rows are 16 feet long. If I plant one corn kernel every 12 inches, how many kernels go in each row? If I plant eight rows, how many kernels have I planted? If each grows into a viable stalk with two ears each, how many ears do I have? And how many dozen ears of corn can I put in the freezer? Of course, this is all God blessing and weather cooperating.
Watching It Grow
After all the sweat of planting a garden and getting it mulched, we tend to sit back and watch it grow until it seems the weeds pop up from nowhere, the bugs come in full force, and everything looks a little stressed. “Oh,” we think, “When was the last time it rained?” So the tasks of fertilizing, watering, getting rid of insects, and the weeds, oh my! Hopefully at this stage, they will be so invested in their garden that there will be all hands on deck:
• Discuss water conservation with your children. See if your County Extension Service offers classes in making and installing rain barrels. If not, do the research yourself and get to work. YouTube has a lot of videos teaching you how to do this.
• Start a sketchbook journal for the garden. Devote a page to each weed or insect that you find. If your child feels inadequate drawing, have him take snapshots of each item and paste one per page. Label each one with both the common name and the scientific name. Include a brief description.
• If you plant corn or sunflowers, chart their growth. Using a carpenter’s tape, measure the plant each morning and record it. You can make it a little more interesting by predicting when you plant it how high it will reach when fully grown.
Nothing beats harvest time for the gardener. Having jewel-like tomatoes line the kitchen window and bushels of beans waiting for the canner beats winning the lottery on our homestead. It also provides another crop of learning activities for the entire family to enjoy.
You will find that children will always eat the foods they grow, but that said, you might have a bountiful harvest. In that case, you might add more academic value by using the excess produce one of these ways:
• Rent a booth at your farmers’ market and sell your excess produce, crafts, eggs, or whatever they allow. Have your oldest child keep records so that he knows how much money you made (or lost) for the season.
• Donate excess produce to the food pantry. Take your children with you for a tour of the facilities. If you do not have a food pantry, gift a less fortunate family in your community. If you know of someone who can use it, can or freeze the produce and gift that person with the already processed food.
Learning to garden is enjoyable in its own right. The other things that children can learn from the process are like icing on the cake. Once you start trying a few of these suggestions, your creativity will take over, and you will discover more ways to have a great time making memories as a family. #
HEALTH BENEFITS OF GARDENING BY PIKE NURSERIES
Active gardening can also be a form of therapy. It’s been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and ease stress. Routine tasks give individuals mental clarity, as they put their mind to work on a relaxing and rewarding hobby. Adding healthy houseplants to office and living spaces is an easy and beautiful way to help improve indoor air quality, as well as increase oxygen levels and humidity.
The act of growing plants is the ultimate mood-booster. This skill gives people a sense of purpose and achievement. A thriving plant also restores hope for the future!
Plant to plate
Growing an indoor herb garden with rosemary, sage, and lavender on a sunny kitchen windowsill is a great way to start. Picky eaters and children introduced to gardening are more likely to try foods they may not have eaten before, having nurtured a vegetable, fruit, or herb.
Yard work is a goal-oriented outdoor activity that strengthens all major muscle groups: legs, arms, back and core. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), general gardening is a moderate-intensity aerobic activity that can burn up to 330 calories an hour.
Exposure to natural light and fresh air triggers the body to produce Vitamin D and absorb essential minerals needed for strengthening bones and immune systems, as well as fighting off sickness.