Spending time outdoors is one of the ways to keep your kids physically healthy. In fact, spending at least one hour a day outside can have a profound effect on your child’s emotional and mental health, as well. And gardening is the perfect excuse to get your kids out of the house because it provides so many opportunities to extend learning beyond the classroom and engage your child in a fun – and educational! – way. Here are five ways to turn your gardening adventures into teachable moments.
Which grows better, a seed watered with soda or water? Does a plant really have to have light to grow? Does the substrate make a difference? How do hydroponics work? Break out the rulers and graph paper to record your results and your child’s inner scientist will be challenged…and thrilled!
2. Create Habitats
The most rewarding gardens are the ones that are appreciated. Butterfly and hummingbird gardens are not only beneficial for the animals, but they’re beautiful to look at, as well! Check out books from your local library and have your child investigate what elements are needed to attract wildlife. What types of plants are recommended? Does your garden need a water feature? Extend the lesson by having your child design the layout based on the needs of the animals.
3. Discover Life
Watching a seed take root and make its first appearance above soil is a wondrous moment to a child. Digging up worms, gently catching pill bugs, or watching a ladybug crawl across your hand helps your child to connect with nature on a personal level. Pick up several seed packets at your local grocery store or gardening center, then ask your child to compare and group the seeds according to size, shape, or color. Lima beans are the perfect size to open and explore the different parts of a seed.
4. Teach Time
Even if your child already knows how to tell time, building a sundial can be a rewarding experience. Your child will take pride in creating a decorative – yet functioning – tool for their yard. And to extend the lesson you can read books on the history of sundials. Take a look at this particularly clever sundial using potted plants!
5. Explore Nutrition
For children who do not enjoy eating their vegetables, planting a garden may be the answer. A study by Saint Louis University showed that preschoolers are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables that are homegrown. They also know more about the importance of a healthy diet and prefer the tastes of fruits and veggies to other foods.
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.