What do children gain from being in a garden or greenhouse? What do they learn? Is it really beneficial? These are just some of the questions that educators and families ask when deciding to implement a garden into the learning environment. Is it really necessary? Do children need to learn where their food comes from? Do they need to learn about the many areas of garden education and how they are connected to the health of the earth? Let’s explore.
From infancy to adulthood we are all growing in the areas of human development. Teachers, schools and parents spend their time in classrooms guiding children’s growth in the areas of social, cognitive, physical, emotional, and moral development. How do these areas of development play out in the garden?
For young children the garden is a place for play and inquiry.
Childhood memories of contact with nature involve deep sensory imprint of texture, smell, color, sound, and taste. These spaces in nature imply a sense of freedom and serenity in which the natural elements, including the weather, present both complexity and the unexpected. The garden can be an environment in which children can create worlds that use sensory elements of the natural environment to shape drama and fantasy. The surprises of the plant world can provoke a child’s curiosity and desire to investigate, such as purple beans that children cook and watch as they change color to green or a flower pod, like touch-me-nots, which explode when you touch them.
The garden is a place to build diverse relationships and problem solving skills.
Opportunities to negotiate social relationships abound in the down-to-earth work of gardening. Whose job is it to plant the seeds, water the plants, carry the pumpkins, or problem-solve the building of the next project? What will the children decide?
Gardens also provide easier inclusion for children who find the classroom challenging.
For those children who struggle with their emotions and overwhelming sensory input the garden calls to them with physical jobs that calm. Picking vegetables, carrying pumpkins, pushing a wheelbarrow, and pouring large watering cans give children sensory input that their body needs through the physical challenges of lifting, pushing and pulling. For a child that needs a break, the bean tipi or the sunflower house provides a space away from social demands.
Children learn the bountifulness of what the garden can offer not only in healthy food production but also in the areas of science, math, language arts, music, art, nutrition and service learning.
Every content area within the classroom can easily be adaptable to the garden. Children learn aspects of life, earth, and physical science through the planting, growing, harvesting and cooking of their food. Square foot gardening allows students to enhance their math skills by plotting out their crop, planting their seeds and food preservation. Story time within the garden leads to writing and drawing exploration. The creation of garden art and art mediums are endless in the garden and give children the ability to contribute to the beautification and sensory output of their outdoor classroom. Having the ability to plant, grow, harvest and cook their own food leads to discussions of nutrition and physical exercise. Children learn about social responsibility by giving part of their harvested crop to a family in need.
The garden is a place for young children to invite and uncover diversity.
Children learn about human diversity through contacts with community members and families and it gives teacher’s the ability to discuss wide social views with children about socio-economic differences and the rights of all to a secure, healthy, comfortable and sustainable life.
In her book, The Challenge to Care in Schools, Nel Noddings argues that giving children opportunities to care for plants and the environment is part of developing a moral disposition to care. She also reminds us that even though human life is completely dependent on plants,
“We are raising children today who do not know why beehives are placed in orchards (if they even know what a beehive is), how new plants are created, or why there is danger in heaping chemical fertilizers in our fields.”
The garden is a unique place between the natural environment and the social environment, one where children can create a meaningful cultural relationship between the work of humans and the complexities and unknowns of the natural world.
Gardens are so much more then growing and harvesting food. They are a tool to create a generation of problem solvers and socially responsible humans that will greatly impact our future.
To learn more about gardening with children visit our Garden Curriculum Page.
References: Childhood in the Garden: A Place to Encounter Natural and Social Diversity