“…The best means of invigorating the child is to immerse him in nature.”
— Maria Montessori, “The Montessori Method”
Children are deeply fascinated by the intricate workings of our natural world. From catching lightning bugs and picking flowers to watching clouds and helping to light a campfire. Gardening at school and at home is a wonderful way to nurture this fascination and reap a number of other important benefits.
Maria Montessori identified that there is real practical value to be gained by spending time engaged with nature in this way. Raising plants in a garden teaches children concrete lessons about their impact on their environment. Children quickly learn if they fail to water their plants, the plants will wither. They learn that they must be diligent in pulling up weeds if the plants are to flourish. Once your child understands the basics of plant care, the plants themselves become most effective teachers!
Gardening also encourages children to develop their powers of observation. Dr. Montessori likened a child observing living creatures to the teacher observing the child at their work. Just as the teacher learns much about the child simply through careful observation, a child can make connections of their own about the flora they tend. Small changes in growth, bloom, and ripening take concentration to notice, and it is incredibly fulfilling for the child to discover that their efforts are rewarded. Seeing a gardening project through requires patience, diligence, and long-range thinking. Gardening is not immediately productive; it takes time and consistent effort to see the rewards. At the same time, throughout the process, it cultivates a sense of wonder, awe, and appreciation of our beautiful world.
Tips for gardening with your child at home
- Set yourself up for success
Before you start digging, sit down with your child and ask them what they want to grow: do they want to have a crop of veggies they can snack on? Herbs to put in home-cooked meals? Pretty flowers to cut for the table? Once you have an idea of their interests, take a hard look at the space you have available to plant in and make sure you’re able to meet the soil/light conditions for the plants you and your child choose. Careful planning in the beginning will smooth the road ahead for your little gardener!
- Encourage independence
While it may be challenging to remain hands-off, do your best to give your child as much agency as possible over his garden. The more responsibility a child adopts to complete a task, the greater his sense of accomplishment and pride when he succeeds. Just think of the pride a child would feel, surveying a plot of healthy, flourishing flowers brought into being by her own hard work and patience. Or, the satisfaction of biting into a sweet, crunchy carrot, knowing that, “I made this grow, all by myself!”
- Make it their garden
When planning your garden, give your child his own space to work with. Having it be dedicated solely to his work to instill a sense of ownership and responsibility. Keep it small and focused though. Dedicating a few pots on a sunny patio or windowsill for your child to nurture is a perfect way to begin and later expand upon.
- Use real tools
While plastic gardening sets are cute and inexpensive, as tools they can be worse than useless. They break easily and do not work efficiently, which adds unnecessary layers of difficulty and frustration to an already challenging job. Do your best to find real tools that will fit your child’s hands. They are out there! Providing your child with tools that get the job done shows them that you take their work and efforts seriously. We would recommend this child-sized gardening set, or one similar.
Click here for one we found on Amazon.
- Embrace the mess
There’s no way around it: gardening can be dirty work! Avoid criticizing your child for coming away from gardening sessions with dirt or water on their clothes. This shows them that you respect the work they’re doing in their garden. It’s an opportunity to encourage your child’s sense of personal responsibility: it’s fine to get dirty while you work, but it’s your job to make sure you clean up afterward!
- Plant a variety.
There are numerous problems that may befall plants in your garden: hungry critters, uncooperative weather, and plain old bad luck all have the potential to disappoint a hopeful gardener in a big way. Planting a range of seeds (three to five different plants) is a good way to spread out the risk. Plants with differing growth rates will also help keep her interest piqued through the whole season. We grow basil, mint, and other hardy herbs in our garden boxes. In fact, our children use the leaves to garnish drinks and snacks in the classrooms so they can taste their hard work.
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