Gardening is a great outdoor activity for kids—here's how to make the most of it, according to a Montessori expert.
During the pandemic, gardening has become all the rage. From container gardening to backyard urban farms, people all over the country have been getting outside to work on their green thumbs. With spring just around the corner it's a great time to introduce your child to the educational and exciting world your backyard can hold—especially if you use a Montessori approach to gardening with your kids.
Teachers in Montessori classrooms often use gardening both as an important educational tool, and as an extension of their inside environment (something much needed on long days with small kids!). There are many benefits to gardening with children beginning in toddlerhood and lasting throughout adolescence. Gardening builds self-confidence, allowing your child to truly see the fruits of their labor. It encourages responsibility and reliability to care for a plant day after day. Watching their plants grow can spark a new curiosity in foods they've never tried, or species of plants never seen. Gardening is also a great way to encourage teamwork with friends or family.
Simply knowing that gardening can be a great activity to do with your child doesn't make the idea of jumping into this activity any easier, especially for those of us (me!) to whom gardening doesn't come naturally. Below are some tips for starting to garden with your child, and tools to help you along the way. Remember to have fun with it, and maybe you will end up with a master gardener living under your roof!
Here are some Montessori tips for gardening with your little ones.
Give your kids their own space in the garden.
Providing your child their own space for their garden gives them the opportunity to truly take responsibility. This can be as simple as a few pots on a balcony, or a small section of a flowerbed.
Choose plants that have sensory and tactical qualities.
For example, quick growing grass makes great sounds when the wind blows, Lavender and Jasmine give off strong fragrances, Sunflowers are visually appealing (and grow very fast!), and the list of fruits and berries to grow and taste is endless.
Involve your child in planning their garden.
Doing the research together on what grows best in your climate and in the location they will be gardening will help them gain a deeper understanding of the process.
Look at your neighbors' gardens with your child.
When planning your garden, take walks in the neighborhood to admire other gardens. Have conversations about what is growing, the different styles of gardens, and see what appeals to your child. Beginning with fast growing plants can often help keep your child's interest in the project.
Let your child grow their plants from seeds.
Whenever possible, begin their garden with seeds instead of starts. Getting to see the entire lifecycle of a plant is a beautiful learning opportunity. There are even gardening kits that can be used indoors, or to start a garden.
Read books about plants with your child.
While waiting for their garden to sprout, reading books about gardening can encourage excitement over what is to come. Two well loved books in many Montessori classrooms are Inch by Inch, a story of a young gardener and their dog, and From Seed to Plant, where children are introduced to gardening vocabulary along with fun and vibrant pictures.
Use kid-sized gardening tools.
It's important to have child-sized and durable tools for your child to use while working in the garden. A child sized wheelbarrow can be fun to use, and also adds some big body movement to gardening. Melissa & Doug gardening gloves are made to fit child-sized hands, and will help keep splinters out of little fingers. A shovel, rake and fork that your child can safely use on their own will allow optimal independence in their gardening.
Most importantly, enjoy this time you and your child have to connect with nature. There is so much to learn from working in a garden, and you don't need even a yard to make it happen. Planter boxes on a porch, a spot in a community garden, or even a spot in a window all foster this experience for your child.