Gardening for Kids: Homeschooling in the Garden – Learning While You Grow
We live in a rural area of Southern California known for its extremely fertile ground and weather conducive to year-round planting. Realizing it would be a shameful waste not to take advantage of such ideal situations, my family and I began gardening a couple of years ago — a hobby that has reaped the joys of exercise, the “power” to be able to nurture and grow plants, and an abundant supply of herbs and vegetables harvested after several weeks of dedication and perseverance.
When we discovered that our children also took an interest in gardening — an interest which lent itself to scientific and biological fascination — we realized that having the children help with gardening was an education-at-home added bonus.
My daughter Shelby, who turned three in March, surprised us with her incredible patience and ability to find even the most minute of weeds for pulling. When we give her a patch of succulent, almost cactus-type weeds (the type that grow in abundance in our area, even without water), Shelby will contentedly yank the annoying nuisance out of the ground for hours on end.
In a short time, she has come to recognize the difference between a weed and a precious little lettuce sprout. Of course, in all honesty, this profound recognition didn’t come without the termination of many a lettuce sprout: There are few vegetable sprouts with the tenacity and hearty root system of a weed. Losing precious vegetable plants to Shelby’s weeding maneuvers was a given, but we chalked it up to learning and now marvel at her ability to recognize weeds versus vegetable plants. Perhaps more incredible than her weed detection skills is the fact that she has learned — from her 5-year-old brother Zack, no less! — that if she doesn’t pull the root of the weed, the weed will grow back.
When we planted our garden, Zack was just as excited about picking out “his plants” as he might have been with a license to pick out as many Matchbox cars as his heart desired. He anxiously bounced around the garden center, amazed with the abundance of the selection and wanting nearly everything he could get his hands on.
He settled for an artichoke plant, a sugar snap pea plant, a cactus, and an African daisy. He would have chosen more, but I reassured him that he could help us take care of the whole garden and then it wouldseem like he had more.
When we came home, he could barely wait to start planting. We read the care instructions for each starter plant; based on the instructions, we carefully chose the placement of the plants. This meant explaining to Zack that some plants require full sun to grow, while partial sun plants would perish in full sun. We further touched on why plants need sun and water to grow at all, without delving too far into horticultural specifics quite yet — after all, he is only five years old! Nevertheless, we realized that gardening IS a scientific art, and I became acutely aware of the benefits gardening will have on his education in the years to come.
For Zack, the best part that day was digging holes for his plants. He dug them joyously and, with gentle hands, placed precious plants into the dirt and settled them in. He never once complained of the hot sun during the March heatwave; he loved every minute of gardening and eagerly spoke of the vegetables he hoped we would soon harvest.
Over the weeks which followed, Zack greeted our garden with great joy and anticipation. He pulled weeds. He noted plant growth. He was in awe of how much could change from just one day to the next. His snap peas grew and clung to the garden fence. The corn reached his hips… then his shoulders… finally climbing well past his head. The artichokes, a much slower crop, disappointed him, but we found simple pleasure in the fact that they thrived and would one day produce tasty artichokes.
Even more pleasing to Zack than the growth of the starter plants was his amazement that we could place lettuce seeds into the dirt, cover them with more dirt, water them, and witness sprouts within a week or so. Once sprouted, they would grow and eventually form into recognizable leaves of lettuce we could wash and eat in salads.
Months have passed. We’ve harvested summer corn. We have been enjoying (over and over again) a huge abundance of zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, and various peppers. Zack has learned it might be better to plant these commodities in smaller amounts next year… and so have we.
Gardening is now old hat to Zack, who continues to enjoy and relax with the pleasurable chore of tending to our herbs and vegetables. His excitement lies in theunexpected – in what he will find next. I know, once the artichokes are ready for picking and the tomatoes have reddened on the vine, he will come to me with sparkling eyes and a desire to pick and eat what he has helped nurture and watched grow.
Meanwhile, I continue to marvel in how much he has retained. Just the other day, while at Disneyland, he spotted a plant and drew my attention to it: “Look, Mom, it’s echinacea! See that purple flower?”… and he was absolutely right.
When moments like that occur, I realize how much he’s learned, right in our own back yard. And I am so happy to discover that, all along, he’s been learning as we grow.