Over the years, I've had the amazing fortune to work with my colleague Dawn Weinberg, who teachers Ag in the Classroom in Hancock County, to coordinator teacher workshops. In these workshops we provide lessons and resources about how teachers can utilize plants to teach a variety of subjects – math, literacy, science, and social studies in their classrooms.

Even at home, the garden can be used to help reinforce classroom learning in a fun and exciting way. Not only does the garden give chances for youth to be outside, it gets them excited about nature and the environment. Gardening also involves all the senses – hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting (if there are edible things growing in the garden).

Here are some ideas of how we can use gardening to encourage math, science, social studies, and literacy skills at home.

  • When out in the garden with youth – ask them questions about what they see that is different than the last trip. It encourages them to observe the world around them.
  • While exploring the garden – ask them to describe what they are looking at using descriptor words – color, feel, appearance, flowers, fruits, insects, etc. This is a great way to work on improving word usage and expanding their vocabulary.
  • If you are starting plants from seed – have them guess how long it will take them to sprout. Have them start a garden journal with dates of seeding, sprouting, and a weekly measurement of plant growth just for a few ideas. Take pictures each week of the plant(s) to visually track the changes over time. Trying growing giant sunflowers – having taught a youth program that grew sunflowers – the youth were beyond excited to see how big they became over the course of the growing season.
  • Have them read the seed packets with you and review words that they may not understand. Have them compare different seed packets and see what the differences between different plants are.
  • As we know, each plant needs a certain amount of area/space to grow, be it flowers, trees, shrubs, vegetables, etc. Have the youth help measure the area you will be planting and then sit down and with the space available, work together to developed a planting plan. This is a way to reinforce the concept of area – limited space so how do we make the most of what we have.
  • If they become excited about a certain plant or plants, have them research more information about those plants – where are they originally from, what are some fun and interesting facts about the plant. As the daughter of a librarian, I know the importance of information literacy and utilizing reliable sources, especially on the internet. This is a chance to reinforce with youth the importance of vetting sources for reliability and quality of information.
  • If a youth likes to write – ask them to write a poem about a flower in the garden, an insect, a tree, a shrub, etc.
  • If they are interested in butterflies – have them look into what plants they can grow to help butterflies and caterpillars and find a place to plant a butterfly garden.

There are so many possibilities of learning experiences in the garden, that what is above is just scratching the surface. Encouraging youth to be active outdoors, involved in nature, and appreciate the environment provide many benefits to youth now and in the future. There are multitude of studies that show the benefit of green space on youth and adults – from stress reduction, to better attention spans, increased physical activity, to supporting creativity and problem solving. Even if you don't have the space for an in ground garden, you can utilize container gardening to garden at home. You can visit a local park and explore, hikes trails at the local forest preserve, even taking a walk around your neighborhood and looking at trees and flowers is an opportunity to learn. The options to be able to explore, enjoy, and appreciate nature are endless.