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Garden School: Teaching Academics while Gardening

There is a special joy in being surrounded with things that grow, watching a new sprout get stronger to bring harvest one day. Gardening is a passion for many of us. But how do we get our children equally excited? Here are some practical ways to get your kids involved. As a special bonus, we’re adding some hands-on learning activities you can incorporate into gardening. Your little helpers will get to play in the dirt and have fun while learning the basics of math, language, science, home economics, and more – all while growing their food.

Preparation Time
It’s time to get our gardens ready for summer. Planning what to plant, buying seeds, and starting seeds are all activities that children love. But what about stretching those activities into the academic side of life? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Take the kids to a store that sells seeds – three for a dollar – and let them pick out a bunch of packets. Look at the label. 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.

Have your children write their own descriptions and planting instructions for the back of the packets.

Don’t throw those seeds away. Plant them.

Planting Season
Once the weather warms up and your seedlings are hardened, planting season begins. This is the most exciting part for the young gardeners.

A good layer of straw, grass clippings or compost around your plants will hold moisture in the soil and deter weeds.

Try this experiment. Plant identical rows side by side. Mulch one row, but allow the other to remain bare. Keep a record of the two rows. Does one require more water? Compare the weed growth between the two. Which plants appear to be healthier? Record your findings. Have the children take pictures to add to the notes.

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 the weeds pop up from nowhere, the bugs come in full force, and everything looks a little stressed. Hopefully someone will remember it hasn’t rained for a while! This is a great learning time for kids. Look up water conservation on YouTube. There are lots of resources specifically created for younger audience.

Start a sketchbook journal for the garden. On each page describe every weed or insect that you find. If your children feel inadequate in drawing, have them 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.

The Bountiful Harvest
Nothing beats harvest time for a gardener. Having jewel-like tomatoes line the kitchen window and bushels of beans waiting for the canner is better than winning the lottery! It provides another crop of learning activities for the entire family to enjoy.

Rent a booth at your farmers’ market and sell your excess produce, crafts, eggs, or whatever allowed. Have your oldest child keep records, so that everyone knows how much money you made (or lost) for the season. Ask your market officials if they have a young entrepreneur program your children could join.

Donate produce to the food pantry. Take your children with you for a tour of the facilities. If you do not have a food pantry, give it to 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.

Once you try a few of these suggestions, your creativity will take over and you will discover more ways to have a great time growing a garden and making memories as a family.

Carol J. Alexander, freelance writer and editor, grows children, food, and stories – naturally.

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