Growing plants is simple, right? Seeds plus soil, plus water, plus sunlight equals living greenery! This is true, but did you know that there are many other hidden learning outcomes that young children can gain from growing their own plants? Here’s a few fun-filled examples that you can easily put into your home life that will turn gardening into a thrilling investigative project.
Let’s start with the most obvious – growing plant life is a scientific process first and foremost. This is an opportunity to start chatting about life cycles and how factors such as sunlight, water and nutrients keep things alive. Over a long period of time, you can also investigate, with your child, how various plants produce seeds or at least ensure that they can grow again. Unless you’re a fully-qualified botanist, your child will most likely have many questions that you don’t know the answer to. If that happens, you can include your child in your research to find out. Books and the internet can be a great resource for you and your child to find out new things about the cycle of life, and the collaborative learning between parent and child is a fantastic bonding experience. Plus, you’re showing your child how to seek out answers to questions independently, which is useful for when they get older.
This is where you might need to get a bit creative. The Maths aspects of plant growing are not immediately obvious. However, you can show your child how to measure and record the height of plants as they grow, which puts their knowledge of numbers and counting into practical use. Time is also a mathematical concept, so you can record how many days, weeks, and months it takes for various plants to grow. By comparing these height and time measurements, you’re showing your child how to record, interpret and make conclusions from data in an age-appropriate way. It doesn’t have to be particularly complex, nor do they have to get all recordings and observations absolutely right. It could be as simple as “Plant A took 5 days to grow 5 centimetres, while Plant B took 7 days to grow 5 centimetres. Which plant do you think grew faster?”, and if your child is struggling to answer or understand, it’s still a fun and fascinating investigation that puts numbers into practice.
Incorporating social skills into plants and gardening may sound a little odd because it’s normally a solitary activity. But by planting and growing something that requires an owner to care for it, your child can learn to take responsibility and care for other living things. You can teach them about what the plant needs, and how it’s up to us to make sure the plant gets it. You’d be surprised how attentive a child can be if they feel like they have ownership over a living thing. Also, if your child doesn’t follow the advice and the plant dies, this is a great opportunity to show them the consequences of action or inaction in a gentle and easy-to-process way. In that instance, it’s great to take your child to buy some new seeds and give it another go. Through this, they will discover how to learn from mistakes and that it’s ok to try again, a lesson that can be transferred to many walks of life.
Children naturally draw, paint and build subjects based on what they see in stories and the world around them. You could make suggestions to them such as “maybe you could draw a garden you would like to grow” or “maybe you could make a painting of what your plant will look like when it’s grown”. Let them choose which materials they want to use and how they want to make their art work, and you’ll be surprised how many predictions and ideas your child will generate about how to grow the plant, and which plants to grow next. By trying out your child’s suggestions, you never know where your investigations may take you!
Reading and Writing
When shopping for seeds, show labels to your children to demonstrate how you know it’s the correct ones. If you’re growing multiple seeds, you could make labels for your garden so that you know where the different seeds are. Don’t worry too much about your child getting the spelling perfectly right (they’ll learn this at school over time), but encourage them to make and write the labels as best they can, and you’ll be showing them the importance and function of writing, as well as giving them more ownership over their projects.
Children have heightened senses – taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing. Any way in which these are incorporated into their learning and play time will engage them on a much grander scale. In planting, you can take advantage of their sense of sight by discovering and discussing the various colours and shapes that you see in plant life. Smelling plants and discussing which ones smell good, or bad, or not at all, is great fun for young children. And if you happen to be growing edible herbs, you can get your children to try them out on their meals to see what they think of the taste. If they have had control over the growing process, you’d be surprised how many tastes even the fussiest of eaters are willing to try out. Just make sure that you read the labels of seed packets VERY carefully because some plants, although fine to touch, can be poisonous, and you don’t want children thinking they can eat any old plant! Tulips, for instance, have poisonous bulbs, so make sure that you talk to your child about what is safe and not safe to do.
These are just a few suggestions to enhance the plant growing process and learn a few extra skills. You could pick something that you think your child is struggling with and focus on it. For instance, if your child is finding Maths quite hard and difficult to engage with, you can put more emphasis on the Maths suggestions I’ve made above.
The most important thing is to start by asking your child if they want to help out with some planting (they will inevitably say yes) and follow their lead. Whatever questions, suggestions or ideas they have, follow through with them as best as you can, and make it their project just as much as yours. They will get much more out of the learning process by engaging practically and taking ownership over what they find out. And above all, have fun with it!