Gardening with Your Preschooler
Preschoolers are busy soaking up information, processing it, and applying it to their daily lives and most love being outside and playing in the dirt. So, why not spend a little time gardening with them? It is a great learning opportunity and does not require a ton of knowledge. A child’s wonder never ceases when it comes to nature and given just a little bit of information, they will take off and learn more than you would ever imagine. Gardening with your preschooler teaches them about where their food comes from and how it is created. It shows them the importance of the soil, sun, and water. And most importantly, they get to play in the dirt and spend quality time with you! Here are some tips for successfully gardening with your preschooler.
Make Your Plan. The most important thing to remember is that you will probably end up doing the most work on your garden, so plan accordingly. You’ll want to pick easy to grow plants but also something the child will be interested in growing and later eating. Sunflowers are fairly easy, fast growing, and beautiful. Peas and beans come in many varieties and are bush or climbing. Tomatoes are hard to start from seed but a purchased plant tends to be fairly hardy and produces many fruits. Also, take into consideration any size constraints. Some plants grow well in containers and would be ideal for growing on a small deck or patio. Other plants, such as strawberries, can be grown in hanging baskets. Contact your local garden center for help picking out which plants will grow best in your area as well as for ideal planting times.
Stick to the Basics. Preschoolers, although interested and excited by everything, still have a limited attention span, so the details are not that important in the beginning. They really just need the basics to start and will most certainly follow up with hundreds of questions. Start very generally by explaining how the seed needs soil, water, and sun to make it healthy and help to grow big and strong, just like we do.
As you see the various wildlife while working with your plants, you can explain how each has a connection to the plants. Some animals are helpful, while others can be harmful. Bees collect pollen from the flowers on the plant to help pollinate and produce the fruits and vegetables that you eat. Spiders eat some of the bugs that would otherwise eat your plant. Worms help enrich the soil. At every turn, there will be an opportunity to teach your preschooler. But, do not be concerned about getting to every detail. Children at this age are so full of questions, that they will determine the path of the conversation with their questions and observations.
Be Flexible and Have Fun! The experience may not go as perfectly and smoothly as you had in mind so try to just go with the flow. Do not be afraid to fail. The plants may not grow and if that’s the case you can try again, try something different, or if nothing else, take them to a local farmer’s market or pick-your-own farm. They can learn just as well by seeing the local producers with their fresh fruits and veggies or by picking their own blueberries. Failure to grow your own plants can be a lesson in how much work and knowledge it can take to put food on the table.
Cater the experience to your preschooler’s interests. My son usually ends up digging a hole nearby in search of buried treasure, while I do the weeding and pruning. But, he loves picking the vegetables, sometimes before they are really ready, watering, and looking for the first hint of green making its way out of the soil. We plant all kinds of stuff and I let him participate in the parts that interest him. Preschoolers learn much more when the experience is fun and they will be just as excited to grow, pick, and eat one fruit or vegetable as they would be with a whole garden.