It is developmentally appropriate for children to learn hands on and through their five senses. One of the most joyful ways is to plant seeds and watch them grow. Children are constantly drawn to sell, touch and gather collections of leaves, seeds, flowers, and even insects. They are fascinated by the tiniest of thigs ad watching a tiny seed gradually reveal itself as it grown provides a magical experience and can bring about a peace of mind.
Children as young as two years can and should have the opportunity to garden before they develop an aversion to nature. Often children are told not to touch something or put something in their mouths. All the attitudes that accompany the sanitizing trend have contributed to children being tactilely defensive. Many children today cannot tolerate putting their hands in paper mache or scooping seeds out of a pumpkin.
A garden is appropriate for all ages and a wonderful family activity. It has many extensions for classrooms too. One year for our 4th grade students we planted a variety of seeds and plants which tied in directly to our core subjects. For example, when we studied Florida’s native Timucua people who used agricultural techniques to grow gourds for use as drinking vessels, students planted the same type of gourds in our class garden. This was one of our most exciting experiments, as the vines grew at an amazing pace and the giant fruit was something most students had never seen before. To connect with Spanish class we grew marigolds, which are the traditional flower of the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday to honor departed friends and family members. We used marigolds to decorate the authentic altar we created in celebration of this holiday. Our gardening endeavors not only connect students with their core classes in a more meaningful way, but we inspired them to learn more about plants and start gardens on their own.
As the weeks passed, our gardening time also gave us a chance to observe the changing seasons, the birds which frequent our schoolyard, and the types of trees and wildflowers that grow there. In a time when many children are focused on indoors activities, such as computer and video games, our students had a chance to experience the natural world in a more meaningful way. Rather than looking to nature and seeing woods, children can identify pine trees, oak trees, and native flowers. Rather than just seeing birds, children see more specifically robins, bluebirds, and others. In this way, our gardening and exploration of the outdoors has served to enrich their world view.