Growing a healthy garden requires hands-on math, science, language, physical, and creative skills and can be an ideal learning environment for kids, especially kinesthetic learners. But just how do you convince kids they can have fun with plants and shovels without letting on that it’s educational? Here are five fun things to do with kids in the garden:
1. Look For Bugs
When you talk to kids about bugs in the garden, you might be met with either devious excitement or revolt. To kids, bugs are simply bugs with little practical use (besides freaking out squeamish friends), so they might be surprised to know that some bugs are actually beneficial in the garden. Begin by going on a bug search with your kids. Have them draw or take pictures of the different bugs they see in the garden and keep a tally of how many of each kind. Then discuss what each of those bugs seemed to be doing. Were they pollinating? Were they eating the leaves? Which were helpful bugs and which were harmful for the garden and why? Were there more good bugs or bad bugs? What does that tell us about the garden? Discuss ways to attract more good bugs and minimize the bad bugs (Just deter them! No need to kill them!). Also, discuss how all the bugs work together to make the whole ecosystem work.
2. Taste Test
To a kid who has never been in a garden before, the idea of eating something growing in the dirt might be met with some raised eyebrows. So what better way to get kids connected to their food than to have a garden taste test? Even if your crops haven’t fully come in yet, many herbs and leaves can be tasted, and even combined for a real taste treat (FYI, strawberries and tarragon leaves taste like fruit loops cereal!) If your garden is harvestable, try making a salad. Have kids select one edible root, stem, leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds and chop them into a delicious salad with some light lemon/olive oil dressing (if you’re short on stems in your garden, you can add a little cinnamon — not only do kids love it, but it comes from the bark, or stem, of the Cinnamomum varieties of evergreen). Get kids experimenting and see how many unique and delicious flavors you can find in the garden!
3. Pattern Match
Gardens can often look like a bit of chaos, but closer inspection will reveal an amazing order. In fact, nature is so structured, it can be calculated by a mathematical formula called the Fibbonacci Sequence. In its simplest form, the Fibbonacci Sequence can be calculated by starting with the number 1, and adding the two numbers prior. So:
As so on. This resulting string of numbers, 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34… is how all of nature structures itself. While trying to explain this to a child might be met with some blank stares, you can help kids discover it themselves with a fun pattern matching game. Have kids explore the garden and count the petals, spirals, and leaves that they find. They’ll be amazed to discover that all these totals will equal numbers in the fibbonacci sequence! Pretty interesting stuff!
4. Chop It Up
This is a great activity for energetic kids! If you have a compost pile, have kids get in there with shovels and hoes and work it up! What do they find? Can they identify anything in the compost pile? How has it changed from when it was first added to the pile? If your compost is cooking well, they might be pretty excited to discover it’s steaming and hot! If it’s stinky, discuss why that might be the case, and what they can add to it to fix it. Set them to work deadheading flowers! Discuss the lifecycle of a plant, from seed to stem to leaves to flower to fruit or seed, and how removing any dead flowers going to seed can force the plant to produce more flowers or fruit.
5. Measure Everything
Kids and gardens both grow fast! See just how fast by keeping growth charts for both. Will the tiny sunflower seeds really grow into a plant that towers over a child? Bring out a tape measure and have kids keep track of the growth of the various plants in the garden. Observe how the plant changes as it grows from seed to stem to first leaves and so on. Ask them to make guesses on which plants will be the biggest, the widest, or the fastest grower. Have them keep track of growing conditions, weather, and water to see how these affect the growth rate.
Beyond simply getting kids involved and sneaking in some hands-on education, gardening with children connects them to their food, to the planet, and their environment in so many healthy ways! And once they begin to see the results of their experiments and hard work, you’re sure to have lifelong gardening enthusiasts!
Image source: woodleywonderworks/Wikimedia Commons