There is one thing I'd like to highlight. When you introduce a child to gardening be ready to get dirty. Both the child and adult must get past any squeamishness and be ready to get their hands dirty. Using tools and gloves will only distract the child from the most important lesson: DIRT. Dirt aka soil is an essential ingredient in gardening (hydroponics aside). Working with soil involves your hands and getting intimate with it. You need to connect directly and develop a love for it.
Besides getting dirty, there is another very important and vital aspect to putting your hands in and getting them dirty. This is a sensory experience that most people area lacking today. The dexterity, fine and gross motor coordination that gardening requires will help a growing child's brain develop in so many ways. Dr. Montessori said, the hands are the instrument of the mind. Homunculus is the perfect image of the relationship of the hand and the brain and other ways in which our senses contribute to brain development.
The same goes for the feet. Keeping children in shoes all the time, even outside,voids them of the opportunity for the neural connections where the senses imprint minute details. These area all important aspects of sensory integration.
Some further reading and links:
Sensory Science: The Mind/ Body Link
The Absorbent Mind and the Sensitive Periods
Sensory Development and Integration for Babies and Toddlers
I have always enjoyed this site below.
Zero to Three- Brain Map
Here is my suggestion for an activity or "lesson" in gardening:
- I'd suggest starting with this book How a Seed Grows. It's a great "lesson" to help guide the kids. Also, it has step by step instructions that the kids will understand on how to start a bean in an egg shell. Make sure your shells are at least 3/4 instead of half. If this is not possible, then collect toilet paper rolls tape paper on bottom and fill with dirt. If this too is too much, then have them collect yogurt cups and punch a few small holes in the bottom for the water to drain out. You can also do a few extra so you can pull out and show them the roots and such, or grow them in a small plastic cup.
-Start the bean seeds in the shells and water ever so little. Best would be a spoon or dropper or small pitcher. Initial watering needs to be deep and thorough, soil should be moist all the way down. You can keep the shells in the carton too. I suggest a bush bean variety over a vining one. Blue Lake Bush beans and Yellow wax are good ones. This way they also see that beans come in different colors.
-Give this as a small group lesson. It might be too much to keep doing individually. It would be a good activity to have a mix of all 3 ages and so have 3 children. It might be a little too challenging for the little ones so if you have 3 with you then you can have them guide each other. I have done this with my girls by age 2, but that's only 1 child every 2 years :) I also suggest putting down lots of newspaper on the table and having them use their hands and fingers to push down the dirt and seed. The most important lesson you can give a child about gardening is that you need your hands to do it, and getting dirty is part of it. Tools and such tend to distract them and they can loose focus. Once the seeds start and you start to transplant, then you can introduce the tools.
-You will need at least 5-6 hours of warm sun for your seedlings. If not, at least 3 hours and you can help them germinate faster with heat underneath or close by. You can create a "greenhouse" by getting foil trays with a plastic dome, or buy one similar to that at Lowes or some other gardening/hardware store. They can help the seed start. It should take about 10 days max and then you can work on transplanting.
-An "additional" exercise would be labeling the plants, so the children know what type of bean they grew, so each tray/carton is Blue Bush or Yellow Wax. You can write their names directly on the egg/container in marker.
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