“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul”. — Alfred Austin
Preschool children are naturally curios and they require direct sensory experience rather than a fixed conceptual generalization given by others. Children below eight years can not read the detailed knowledge about any particular topic or subject. They are extremely visual in their orientation at this stage. Along with the visual orientation, they need verbal explanation too! This very logic is the foundation for developmentally appropriate gardening practices for preschool children.
The first important goal of teaching gardening at this young age is environmental awareness that should start with hands-on experiences with nature.
The second goal is to provide social skills and personal growth in young children. They love to share their achievements with their peer group or elders, even when it’s just watering a plant.
The third goal is to provide multidimensional, active learning. Gardening involves hands-on information, observing changes and learning new skills. Gardening is not only restricted to grow plants and learn about science and ecology lessons, but it can be a wonderful springboard for teaching math skills like counting, graphing, charting and mapping; pre-reading (story telling, rhymes and songs) and pre-writing (fine motor) skills; social studies (learning about different foods from other cultures); art and aesthetic skills (how to design the garden with different patterns and landscaping, colours and textures etc).
The fourth goal of gardening is to teach about health and nutrition to young children. It allows them to try new foods and their combinations based on their experiences, especially when they are involved in the process of growing that particular food group or know the source of it.
The fifth goal is to provide science education to preschool children. They learn about different plants, processes like photosynthesis, seed production, pests (harmful and beneficial), compost making and interdependence among plants and animals.
The best gifts for children from the garden may not be the colourful flowers or sweet fruits, but rather a beautiful hands-on learning experience that is full of “what ifs” and wonders, prediction and exploration. Children won’t be worrying about a plenty of crop but they are worrying about “right now”. Their focus is … “What will happen now?”… “Can I touch it?”… “Can I eat it now?” This is the magic of gardening with children; the many opportunities to experiment and explore nature.
Getting started with gardening
Gardening can be started as a natural part of everyday working with children. It is not required to be a daily or weekly activity though. Start with initiating the gardening thoughts and ideas by reading about the plants, gardening and other things related to it. You can awake the interest through story telling or general day to day conversations with your child. Provide children the opportunity to observe and be curious to know about the plants.
Try to create an environment where hands-on and meaningful explorations occur and children can participate in taking care of the plants or garden. Keep the child sized gardening tools ready as per the convenience so that the child can use it when required. Giving them their own gloves and watering cans, promotes ownership and responsibility. Try to give enough chance to yourself and your child to sit quietly in nature with plants and have the sensorial experience of smell, touch, sound and taste.
You can invite some extra charm in your child by adding some bird feeders, bird baths or bug houses in the garden. Children enjoy observing the birds and bugs and their role in environment. You can teach your child to be in harmony with nature through these. Another addition could be a tub or bucket filled with some loose wood pieces, sea shells, pine cones, small rocks, toy cars, dinosaurs, or fairies will allow your child to create their own fantasy play in the garden.
You can suggest ways to observe, compare, predict, measure and take care of a growing plant or their different parts like flowers or seeds. They can water the plants, scoop the soil into pots, count seeds and help get supplies when asked for. You can help the child taking photographs which may help children review their observations and reach to the desired conclusions.
Also, don’t forget to consider the safety of children while teaching gardening. Keep the pesticides or chemicals out of reach. Children below three years of age should not be given seeds to handle. They might pop them in their mouth. Sometimes seeds have a coating of chemicals which could be harmful for them.
What skills children Learn from Gardening
Children of all ages enjoy gardening along with learning new skills, have fun and develop self-confidence. Children love to play in soil and getting dirty and watching plants grow every day. They learn-
· Understanding – Cause and effect, that is plants die without water and air or pests destroy the plants.
· Responsibility- Taking care of the plants
· Love of environment- Pleasant effects of nature in outdoors.
· Build Confidence – Achieving their goals and trying the new food grown in the garden.
· Discovering Science concepts and Processes- about plants, animals, weather, nutrition, and environment.
· Social skills- Team work , Cooperating with elders or siblings or peer group in the gardening process
· Physical skills- Fine and Gross motor activities.
· Creative skills- by finding new and exciting ways to grow and make food.
· Health and nutrition- by knowing the facts about different food groups.
· Math Skills- counting, matching, sorting, pattern etc
· Language skills- Pre reading and Pre writing.
Activities for a child in the garden-
These activities can be chosen according to the age of the child. These may include-
· Watering the plants
· Sowing seeds in pots or ground
· Digging soil
· Picking flowers
· Helping to prepare the compost
· Picking fruits or vegetables when ready to pluck (under guidance)
· Helping in cooking while preparing the food plucked from garden.
· Preparing salads and school lunch using their garden products
· Gathering dry leaves or flowers and weeds
· Gathering seeds