With growing awareness of healthy eating and the value of fresh foods, more and more families and schools are choosing to grow their own gardens for extra food and extra beauty. But did you know that gardening can help early learners develop key skills and knowledge about nature and introduce them to the biological branches of the STEM field? See below for six reasons that your child should have an opportunity to garden, either at school or at home.
1. A (new) sensory experience
Some children, particularly in urban areas or with very busy schedules, may have never had the experience of playing in the dirt. Squishing feet and hands into mud, picking up an earthworm, stroking leaves and petals, hearing the buzz of close insects, and smelling the various scents in a garden can provide your child with new sensory experiences to enhance and help their development.
2. Making farm to table connections
Have you ever seen that television show where a world famous chef asks children where pizza comes from, and the kids say trees? Facilitating a gardening experience for your child allows them to understand where and how produce is grown. Parents and teachers can go a step further by taking children indoors to cook with the food from the garden. In this way, children can make “farm to table” connections, and also a connection between food collection and preparation.
3. Learning about science and biological concepts
Gardening can also facilitate further early STEM skill development in learners of all ages. While gardening, children can see pollination in action. They can also see how the presence of worms helps plants grow, and that slugs can eat and hurt the plants. Children can watch birds eat insects, and even insects eating other insects. They can also investigate what kinds of animals come and secretly eat the plants while they are away.
4. Lesson of “losing plants”
Tied with science, and also tied with life lessons, children learn what happens when plants are overwatered or devoured by hungry wildlife. Children can experience failures and successes through gardening.
5. Working with tools and developing dexterity
For early learners, gardening is especially beneficial in developing dexterity in the use of tools. For many children, the garden is the first time they are handed a shovel (other than the beach!). Early learners can practice digging and raking in the actual dirt, feel the resistance and weight of the soil, and then see the results of their efforts.
6. Process over product
Any teacher with a class garden can tell you—it’s not about the end result, but about the process and the experience of gardening. One teacher expressed it as “process over product.” When gardening with children, particularly early learners, the greatest concern is not the health of the garden, but the garden experience. This offers amazing freedom in the tasks and adventures your child can have in their interactions with nature.