This is the scene that met my eyes a couple of weeks ago in a preschool garden. The sun was shining and children wearing hats were playing outside. One little girl was creating a home out of leaves for her ‘pet’ snail Sammy, who was resting on her hand, while two boys were pouring water from small watering cans to give the flowers a drink. Another two children in gardening gloves were helping the preschool leaders to tend the raised beds of flowering strawberry plants.
Spring and summer are great times to be outside in the garden with children and what better way to explain to them about growth, decay and life cycles than gardening.
Gardening also links with all areas of learning and development within the EYFS. For example, we can extend children’s vocabulary through sharing names of plants and parts of flowers, or engage in mathematical activities by counting seeds and measuring flowerbeds. In addition, there are numerous links with Understanding the World and Physical Development.
Here are some ideas for gardening activities to try with children and examples of what children can learn:
- Think about the life cycle of a plant by growing a flower from a seed.
- Show the children where food comes from – not their local supermarket!
- Talk about eating healthily – children are often keen to try foods that they have grown themselves.
- Encourage children to write for a purpose by writing labels for seedlings.
- Compost grass cuttings and plant trimmings and talk about decay and putting nutrients back into the soil.
- Find out about mini-beasts and how some are gardeners’ friends while others are not.
- If you do not have a garden you can still engage in gardening with children, plant seeds in freestanding pots, window boxes or even a jam jar on a windowsill.
- Take photographs of how the garden changes over time, stick them into a scrapbook and refer back to them throughout the year.
- Read books about growing, e.g. Watch Them Grow or Jasper’s Beanstalk.
- Plant some fast and easy to grow seeds like dwarf sunflowers, beans, poppies or cress.
- Grow some edible plants, e.g. strawberries, lettuce, or beans.
- Talk about what plants need in order to grow.
- Make a display using pictures, photographs and children’s creations all about your gardening antics.
- Invite parents and carers to come and enjoy gardening activities with you.
- Take the children on an outing to a garden centre or landscaped garden to look at all the different plants and trees that can be grown.
- Create a garden of remembrance as a peaceful space to sit and paint stones to decorate the area.
- Use natural resources inside as well as playing with them outside, e.g. use pinecones or conkers as counters.
- Create bug hotels for mini-beasts and wildflower gardens for bees.
Top ten tips for safe gardening with young children:
- Introduce some basic rules for gardening, e.g. we never eat anything without asking an adult; we always wear proper shoes and clothing; we always wash our hands after gardening.
- Know your children really well – check for any allergies before gardening together.
- Dress for the occasion: wellies, gardening gloves, sun cream, sun hats and coats (if needed).
- Always offer the children smaller, child-sized tools to use (watering cans, trowels, rakes etc.).
- Try to avoid using products such as insecticides to keep the greenfly off, but if you have to, always look for natural or organic products and check that they are safe to use with children.
- Ensure that any garden canes used are taller than the children and have something like a yoghurt pot over the top of them. This protects you and your children from injury and makes them more visible.
- Talk to the children about where they can and cannot walk and play in the garden.
- Wash gardening gloves regularly.
- Show children plants to avoid like nettles and brambles and explain how they could hurt them.
- Use gardening as an opportunity to remind children about the importance of washing hands!
Enjoy gardening with children this summer, whatever the weather, and watch both your children’s interest and your garden grow!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.
Tamsin has written two books – Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children and School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.