Over the years, I've had the amazing fortune to work with my colleague Dawn Weinberg, who teaches Ag in the Classroom in Hancock County, to coordinate teacher workshops.
In these workshops we provide lessons and resources about how teachers can use plants to teach a variety of subjects -- math, literacy, science and social studies -- in their classrooms.
Even at home, the garden can be used to help reinforce classroom learning in a fun and exciting way. Not only does the garden give chances for youths to be outside, it gets them excited about nature and the environment.
Gardening also involves all of the senses -- hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting (if there are edible things growing in the garden).
Here are some ideas of how we can use gardening to encourage math, science, social studies and literacy skills at home:
º When out in the garden with children, ask them questions about what they see what has changed from the last trip. It encourages them to observe the world around them.
º While exploring the garden, ask them to describe what they are looking at, using descriptive words -- color, feel, appearance, flowers, fruits and insects. This is a great way to work on improving word usage and expanding their vocabulary.
º If you are starting plants from seed, have them guess how long it will take them to sprout. Have them start a garden journal with dates of seeding, dates of sprouting and a weekly measurement of plant growth. Take pictures each week to visually track the changes over time.
Try growing giant sunflowers. Having taught a youth program that grew sunflowers, the children were beyond excited to see how big they became over the course of the growing season.
º Have them read the seed packets with you, and review words they may not understand. Have them compare different seed packets and the differences between different plants.
º As we know, each plant needs a certain amount of area/space to grow, be it flowers, trees, shrubs or vegetables. Have the children help measure the area you will be planting, and then sit down and with the space available, work together to develop a planting plan. This is a way to reinforce the concept of area with limited space, so how do we make the most of what we have?
º If they become excited about a certain plant or plants, have them research more information -- where is the plant originally from, what are some fun and interesting facts about the plant? As the daughter of a librarian, I know the importance of information literacy and using reliable sources, especially on the internet. This is a chance to reinforce with children the importance of vetting sources for reliability and quality of information.
º If a child likes to write, ask him or her to write a poem about a flower in the garden, an insect, a tree or a shrub.
º If children are interested in butterflies, have them look into what plants they can grow to help butterflies and caterpillars, and find a place to plant a butterfly garden. There are so many possibilities of learning experiences in the garden that what is above is just scratching the surface. Encouraging children to be active outdoors, involved in nature and to appreciate the environment provides many benefits now and in the future.
There are many studies that show the benefit of green space on children and adults -- from stress reduction and better attention spans to increased physical activity and supporting creativity and problem-solving.
Even if you don't have the space for an in-ground garden, you can use container gardening at home. You can visit a local park and explore or hike trails at the local forest preserve. Even taking a walk around your neighborhood and looking at trees and flowers is an opportunity to learn. The options to be able to explore, enjoy and appreciate nature are endless.