Summer is a great time to get outdoors and start a garden with your kids. You’ll create fond memories while helping develop your children’s gardening skills.
How to Plan a Garden Unit Study for Kids
Kids love being outdoors and nature studies are such an easy way to do that. A nature study helps kids appreciate the world around them. Children get first-hand experience of nature when they get out and explore it, even in their own backyards. The more time kids spend outdoors in nature, the more they respect it.
Spring and summer are great months for getting outdoors. There’s so much to see and do! If you’re looking for a hands-on activity to keep your kids busy and learning through the summer, children’s gardening is perfect. A garden nature study is easy to plan, and you all get to enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor!
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Why Children’s Gardening is Important and the Benefits of Gardening with Kids
Gardening teaches kids many important skills and lessons, including:
- Hands-on experience learning about how plants grow and how to keep them healthy
- Exercise and fresh air while kids plant, water, and tend to gardening duties
- Lessons in responsibility and patience, as plants require months of care
- Life skills lessons in how to use gardening tools, knowing how much water plants need, and how to know when vegetables are ripe
- Learning about nature, including what insects and animals might cause damage to plants
- Fine and gross motor development with digging, weeding, and hauling gardening tools to garden and back
- Healthy eating as kids will want to eat the plants they’ve taken care of
Garden Activities for Kids
A garden nature study can include such a wide variety of activities for all ages. You can focus on the plants themselves, either vegetables, flowers, or both and how they grow. If this is the first time gardening for all of you, then perhaps as a family you could read through gardening books and plan the garden together. Alternatively, your kids might be interested in the critters they may find in a garden, from insects who damage the plants to the bees that are needed for pollination. Learning more about gardening and plants makes a perfect spring nature study or a great addition to your summer nature study.
Garden Activities for Middle and High Schoolers
If you have older children, from middle school on up, you can assign one or more plants for them to care for from start to finish. We did this with my kids one summer. They each read through my gardening books and decided on a plant, with my high schooler choosing two. They went with us to the nursery and picked the plants. Then they planted them in the garden. They were responsible during the summer for checking on their plants, watering and weeding as needed. During their research, they looked up how long the plant took to mature. Then they harvested the vegetables and created a meal that included the vegetable to serve the family for dinner.
I did help my two middle boys by reminding them to water and weed. When it came time to cook the meal, they came up with the meal, but I did help them cook. My high schooler cooked the entire meal by herself. They all really enjoyed this project and immediately started discussing the plants they should choose the following year.
If you’d like to extend the project even more, you can have your older kids write a report about the experience. They can share why they chose that plant and what they learned about it. Your kids can also detail any problems they encountered through the growing season as well. For example, my daughter chose Brussels sprouts as one of her vegetables, but midway through the summer all of the plants were attacked by a pest and died. In their report, kids can share what happened and perhaps what they would do in the future to prevent that issue from happening again.
Lower Elementary Gardening Activities
Children in lower grades, such as grades K-5, can still choose a plant to grow just like the older kids. However, they may need you or an older sibling to help take care of it. You can show them how to correctly space the plants and how to plant them. Then they could help you water and weed through the summer when you are taking care of the rest of the garden. They may also need your help preparing a meal with the vegetable, if you choose that project.
If you’d like to work on some real-life math skills, your lower elementary children can find the area of your garden to help space the plants. If you need fencing or would like to plant flowers around the garden, then they can help you measure the perimeter. Also, once you decide how many plants you’ll have in the space, they can help you draw a scale model of the garden.
Additionally, a garden nature journal is a perfect way to document the gardening project all summer. Kids can draw their plants at different stages. For example, a plant that is newly in the ground will look much different than a flowering one. Then once the harvest begins appearing, kids can draw that in their journals as well. Along with drawings, kids can also write the day, weather, and a little about what’s happening in the garden.
Plant Activities for Preschoolers
Even your little ones can enjoy a garden nature study. Preschoolers love to help and feel like they are big kids, so let them help you with gardening chores. They can learn how to correctly water plants, which is always a favorite activity of my preschooler. Though that also usually means whoever chases after him to wrestle the hose out of his hands ends up soaking wet.
Your preschoolers and even toddlers can also help with easier plants. My little guy loves to go out with me to pick the green beans when ready. He also helps me pick lettuce as well. If you show which ones to pick, little hands can also help grab cucumbers and peppers. Preschoolers also love flowers, so you can have them help you plant and water any flowers you put in the garden.
You can additionally teach your little ones about the life cycle of plants. When they can see and touch seeds, seedlings, and eventually mature plants, they will have hands-on experiences to help them understand how a plant grows.
If working in the garden seems to be more than your child can handle, then watching a seed sprout indoors is an activity that may work better for your family. You can use a plastic ziptop baggie or plastic cup with paper towel. Wet the paper towel and press the seed (a bean seed is quick to sprout) between it and the outside of the cup or baggie. Make sure the paper towel stays moist and within a few days you’ll see it sprout.
A related bug unit is also a hit with preschoolers. You can find so many fun books about bugs to read. Eric Carle books, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Grouchy Ladybug, and The Very Quiet Cricket, are sure to be hits with your little ones.
How to Start Your First Garden with Kids
Starting your children’s first garden doesn’t have to be hard or time-consuming. First you’ll want to grab a book or two on gardening or research online. You’ll want to know how much sunlight you’ll need on your plants, plants that grow well in your area or zone, and when it’s best to plant them.
Once you know where your garden will go, then you’ll want to decide on which plants to get. If you are beginning to garden, it’ll be easier to buy most of your plants as seedlings. You can find them at plant nurseries, home improvement stores, and even grocery stores may have a plant section outdoors. Some plants are easier to grow from seed, including lettuce. You can find seed packets at the grocery store or online. I’ve even seen seed packets at the local dollar store, along with other gardening equipment.
Good Plants to Start Gardening with Kids
Some plants are easier to grow than others. Below is a list of some vegetables, flowers, and herbs that are good for children’s gardening.
- Green beans
- Snap peas
- Milkweed (which is also good for studying butterflies)
Children’s Garden Tools
Older kids should have no problem using adult-sized tools. However, young children may need their own child-sized gardening tools. Personal items like gloves and garden shoes will help keep kids safe when working in the garden. Child gardening tools like rakes and shovels will make it easier for kids to work in the garden.
- Children’s gloves: Gardening gloves are necessary when children work in the garden. Gloves protect little hands from thorns and prickly plants. They also make it easier to plant, weed, and handle gardening tools.
- Gardening shoes: Gardens can get muddy. Wearing washable shoes in the garden will keep sneakers and other everyday shoes clean. I prefer croc-style shoes for myself in the garden, so I think they make good gardening shoes for kids as well. But any shoe that can be hosed off and left to dry works well in a garden. A shoe that covers the toes is good for protection when planting or using gardening tools. Rain boots are also good shoes for gardening and may be something you already have at home.
- Child-sized gardening tools: Younger kids can have difficulty wielding adult-sized gardening tools, making them unable to help as much. Having child-sized gardening tools helps younger children work effectively in the garden.
Children’s Gardening Books for Beginners
Learning through literature is a great way for kids to learn more about the outdoors and how plants grow. A good variety of gardening books for kids is useful to have at home. Some books will teach kids about gardening, while other teach about the parts of a plant and how it grows. Fiction books about plants make a wonderful addition to children’s gardening as part of a garden nature study.
- From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons: I love including Gail Gibbons’ books in our nature studies. They are always informative and good for kids of many ages.
- How a Seed Grows by Helene Johnson: This is a good nonfiction book for preschoolers through lower elementary to learn how seeds grows into plants.
- The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons: Another Gail Gibbons’ book to include. This one shares the differences in vegetables and discusses how they grow.
- A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston: This book has such beautiful illustrations that children will enjoy looking at the pictures as much as learning about seeds.
- Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner: This book shows children what happens to plants as they grow above ground, plus what is happening with insects in the dirt.
- The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle: Eric Carle books are so beautifully illustrated and tells a story about how seeds travel and what becomes of them.
- Vegetable Gardening for Beginners by Jill McSheehy: If you are new to gardening along with your children, then this book will be helpful for all of you.
- Let’s Get Gardening by DK: This book is a great book to have for children’s gardening. There’s background information on how plants grow, planting guides for vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and more.
Combine Gardening with an Online Nature Book Club
Another great way to combine literature with gardening is through an online nature book club using The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. In this online nature book club, you’ll read the book while also learning more about rabbits, scarecrows, and enjoying a party at the end. Your kids will learn about different types of gardens, like herb and vegetable, as well as soil, seeds, and fruits and vegetables. What a memorable way to combine your first garden and a wonderful classic book.
Gardening is a wonderful family activity to enjoy together. Put your kids in charge of their learning, and your garden, when you create a garden nature study to learn more about plants. Your older kids will appreciate the responsibility of planning a garden, or at least a plant or two in it, from start to finish. A complete farm to table idea for their summer learning! Younger kids will enjoy being part of such an important task for their family. Children’s gardening is a wonderful summer activity from which the whole family benefits. Start planning your family garden today and enjoy a summer creating goodness with your family!