Growing plants and young minds: Gardening has educational benefits for children

2014-04-03T07:30:00Z Growing plants and young minds: Gardening has educational benefits for childrenChristine Bryant Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
April 03, 2014 7:30 am  • 

Including children in planting a garden can be a great cooperative project for both parents and kids.

Beyond learning about different fruits and vegetables, gardening can help educate kids in several areas – from math to the ecosystem.

“Gardening experiences stay with kids their whole life,” said Bill Maynard, president of the American Community Gardening Association. “They will learn responsibility, caring and an understanding more of how our food is grown.”

Math, science, English, art – they’re all subjects found in the classroom, but Maynard said there’s a place for them outdoors in the soil as well.

“Kids that grow a garden retain more of what they learn in the garden, as it’s a hands-on experience and they learn by doing,” he said. “Many times they don’t realize that they are being taught something, as they’re having so much fun.”

So how do you incorporate different education areas into your garden planning this year? Linda Mapes, a Porter County Master Gardener, offers the following advice.

Step 1

Decide how much space you have for a garden. Mapes said ideally your garden should be located in a sunny area at least 8 hours a day.

“Map out where you are going to plant your seeds,” she said. “Rows and spacing can become a math measurement lesson.”

Step 2

Discuss with children what vegetables they like to eat and would like to grow. This helps teach planning and organization, as well as nutrition awareness.

“Easy to grow from vegetable seed plants include lettuce, carrots, radishes, cucumbers and beans,” Mapes said. “Flowers might include sunflowers – save the seeds for the birds – and marigolds.”

Step 3

Purchase the seeds. Involve children in comparing how long it will take different varieties of seeds to produce fruit and how far spacing should be. This is also a good time to shop for garden tools that are kid-friendly, Mapes said, such as a watering can, hand trowel, hand cultivator, shovel and gloves.

Have kids work on a budget for the garden, figuring how many seed packets and supplies they can purchase for the amount of money that is budgeted for the garden.

Step 4

Prepare the soil and add planting soil or amendments – a part of gardening that can teach kids about which nutrients are needed for plants to grow best.

Step 5

Plant the seeds, and include the children in the process by reading the back of the packages.

“Not only are they learning valuable information, but they are using the life skill of reading,” Mapes said.

Mark the date on the calendar so children will have an idea of when to look for sprouts. This helps children plan in advance and think several weeks ahead, Mapes said.

“Water lightly the first few days to keep the seeds moist,” she said. “Mark the rows for identification as well.”

Step 6

When the seedlings emerge, parents have another opportunity to teach how important it is to weed the garden and possibly eliminate some of the seedlings so others will have more room to grow, Mapes said.

“A garden that is kid-successful is simple and allows children to be involved in all steps of the progress,” she said.

Step 7

Enjoy. As the garden grows, encourage kids to write in journals what they are seeing and experiencing – whether that’s successes or failures.

“At the end of the season, talk about what they enjoyed and didn’t,” Mapes said. “Write down notes also to remember for the next year.”

Maynard said to include notes on weather, pests and problems they are experiencing with certain seeds.

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