I Grew That! Plant Science in a Vegetable Garden
Here’s a very effective way to encourage your child’s appreciation of vegetables... grow your own! Children are more likely to eat their vegetables when they’ve grown them, according to a study by Cornell University published in the pediatrics journal Acta Paediatrica.
They’re also more likely to get their science learning down: Home gardening is also a great way to supplement the science education your kids are getting in school. What they learn about the life cycle – from seed to table – is a hands-on science project at home.
And best of all, gardening together is just plain fun! So let’s get started with some basics.
Enjoy the Seed Catalogs
Everyone loves a seed catalogue with its beautiful pictures. So pick up a few as a place to start your own gardening plans. Seeds of Change, Burpee Seeds, and Gurney’s are reliable seed companies that have online seed catalogs with lovely images.
Selecting Your Seeds and Planning Your Garden
Big seeds are easier for little hands to handle than small seeds. Squash, peas, beans, cucumbers, and pumpkin seeds are easy to place one at a time in the soil. Carrots, tomatoes, and lettuce are small and adult help will be needed to plant them.
Notice what the catalog says about how tall and wide various plants grow. An older child can get involved in measuring your garden plot or drawing a diagram to see where plants will go. Have them plot out the composition of your vegetable garden.
Discuss the seasons when making your seed selections. Talk about which vegetables like to be planted in early spring (like peas) and which (like tomatoes) need to wait for warmer early summer weather. A vegetable garden offers valuable lessons in patience and natural growth cycles.
Science in the Soil
Before you get to the “I grew that!” stage you’ll go through the “What IS that?” stage of growing food. It happens when you and your kids get your hands in the dirt. The dirt is absolutely full of tiny life forms, some big enough to wriggle and crawl.
Healthy soil also contains several million microorganisms per teaspoon… yes, that’s per teaspoon! And those invisible creatures aren’t just healthy for the soil; they’re good for you too! This is a science teaching moment for sure, and one that could easily find its way into your school’s science fair project. So discuss “The Soil Food Web” as the real scientists would call it, and reassure your kids that everything wriggling and crawling is making healthier soil and healthier food.
Little Tools for Little Hands
You’re going to need the right tool for the right job (and for little hands!). Invest in children’s gardening gloves, a small trowel, a shovel made for their size, and maybe a little watering can. Local home supply stores sell children’s gardening items, and you can get them online, too.
Explain the rules for use and make sure your kids know that tools need to be put back in their right place; a good lesson in responsibility. And speaking of encouraging a sense of responsibility, entrust your little one with the watering duties. Just like having a cat or dog... your veggies have got to be fed and watered. Make a watering chart and whoever’s turn it is to water can put a colorful sticker up when the chore is complete.
Document the Experience
Give your children a garden journal to document the entire experience. They can note which plants are the thirstiest, keep track of growth, and document differences in leaf shapes, flowering patterns, and more.
If you add a lesson on mulching into your garden time, it can be used as the basis of a science experiment that’s also recorded in the journal. Put a 3-4 inch layer of straw or leaf mulch around one vegetable plant and leave the soil bare around another. Record which plant requires the most water over the growing season.
The journal will add to the scientific lesson and will also come in handy when it’s time to plan next year’s garden.
Where to Go for More Answers
There are so many different lessons to be had in a vegetable garden so be prepared to let your child’s curiosity guide you. One child might get caught up in watching bees and butterflies and wondering what they are doing, opening the opportunity for more learning. And another child (in the same family!) might want to establish very straight rows and make charts for fertilizer input. Be flexible and help your children learn as they garden.
That Magic Moment
It’s now many months later and you’re in the harvest stage of your garden cycle. Throughout the process, you’ve picked up numerous scientific discoveries, taken on responsibilities, and bonded over the months. Now it’s time to enjoy the results of your hard work. Nothing compares to the satisfaction you see on your child’s face when he says, “I grew that!”
Are you planning on planting a kid-friendly vegetable garden? What will you grow?