The great outdoors provides a multitude of opportunities for kids to learn about the natural world and where we fit in. It is also a wonderful way to spend time together, screen-free out in the garden.
Most children enjoy being outdoors and love digging in the soil, discovering, creating and getting face-to-face with nature. Gardening encourages the development of new skills as children socialise and develop self-confidence by tending to their plants. Apart from motor skill development, Guardian Childcare and Education (2017) identifies four fundamental benefits of gardening for young children:
Finding new things, investigating and learning about the science of plants, animals, weather, the environment and nutrition.
Discovering the outdoors in a safe environment.
Sensory exploration: Children gain insight on density, weight, malleability, permeability etc.
Children learn that they need to take care of their seeds every day in order for them to become healthy plants.
Conceptualise the process of cause and effect (for example, plants and vegetables die without water, weeds compete with plants etc).
Growing minds (n.d.) encourages us to create opportunities for children to be “in” the garden as opposed to just looking “at” it. Many parents believe infants and toddlers are too young to be involved in gardening, but they can be engaged through watering, digging, and exploring worms, insects and birds. At this age, children learn so much through their senses, and creating a safe, diverse and developmentally appropriate outdoor space for learning, can offer multiple benefits across curriculum and developmental areas.
There are so many teachable math moments when gardening. These can range from measuring the soil depth to counting the seeds. Gardening also develops patience as children learn to be patient when waiting for their flowers and vegetables to grow. Scooping up the dirt, placing the seeds in the pots and pouring the water all take fine motor control and strength. These fine motor skills are essential for children to learn how to write, tie their own shoelaces and button their clothes.
Some suggestions to get children involved and interested in gardening from Better Health Victoria (2014):
Give children their own garden space, at Turtletot Childcare in Bexley NSW we have a vegetable garden protected by our special scarecrow!
Use lightweight, easy-to-handle, child-sized tools and garden equipment;
Grow interesting plants such as sunflowers, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and strawberries. At Turtletot our cook uses the mint from the children's garden in meals!
Make a scarecrow like the one we have at Turtletot or set up a worm farm and encourage the children to express themselves without squashing their ideas !
While working in the garden, children can experience the satisfaction that comes from caring for something over time, and observing the cycle of life first hand.
Choosing the right plants is always important, even more so for gardens designed for young children. Kids Gardening (2020) has a fabulous website with a list of plants that includes annual and perennial plants considered safe for little hands. Head over here to learn which plants are best suited for your preschooler!