Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

June 25, 2010

Using Your Garden to Grow Minds


Guest blog by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.

You can use your garden to grow minds as well as food.  The very things that are necessary to make a garden grow food, flowers, and hay can also be used to educate children in science and math, reading, following directions, nutrition, and cooking.  Even something as mundane as pulling weeds can involve lessons in taxonomy and composting.

Taxonomy lessons

For example, your child can sort the weeds into piles of similar plants.  A simple guide to weeds is not very expensive and usually has big pictures for easy identification.  Using the shapes of the leaves, color of the flowers, and type of stems, the child can work to identify the type of weed.  This can lead into a discussion about the life cycle of a plant and why some are useful in the garden and others are not.  The same plants that are pests in the garden might be grown in a pasture.


After the weeds are identified, you and your child can work on a simple compost pile.  If you have 2548355070_ec3ea13411hoofed animals, you have a source of manure.  If not, kitchen scraps that are not from meat or fat can be used.  Layers of weeds and manure or scraps can be made, or laid on an existing compost pile.  The child can have a small one that he or she can turn and monitor until it becomes rich compost.  This compost can then be returned to the garden so the cycle can start again.

Soil test

Check with your local Extension Office for the best soil test kits (they are inexpensive and sometimes even free!).  A soil test can be used for several lessons.  Start with elements and which ones are important in growing plants. Move on to how those elements get into soil, and how soil is formed.  A hands on lesson can involve the gathering of the soil needed for the test.  Shovel a little dirt from five or six sites and allow the child to mix it with his or her hands.  Then let them pack the soil into the sample bag.

Plant circulation systems

While you are waiting for the results, which will take about two weeks, you can cover photosynthesis and how plants take up water and nutrients from the soil.  Roots need food, so the plant’s circulatory system, a simple one, can come next.  Finally, you can discuss why plants are green and go over chlorophyll.

Soil test results

When the soil test results come back, it is time for a little math.  Usually, for lawns, the results are expressed in Soilpounds of element per 1,000 square feet.  Fertilizer usually comes in 40 pound sacks that only have a percentage of the element in them, with the rest being carrier.  You can cover fractions and multiplication while figuring out how much of the bag to spread to meet the recommendations.  You can go to the Tulsa Master Gardeners website and find calculators to make this easier for you and smaller children.

If these topics have wet your interest, there are lots more where they came from.  In fact, there are two years of curriculum in science, math, literature, and various other topics available from the United States for the cost of the books.  Children who complete the curriculum may be certified as Junior Master Gardeners. It is possible to teach much more than where food comes from if even a small spot is under cultivation.

Author Byline

StephStephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.  is a master gardener, photographer, and writer in Texas.  You can see her photographs and read her work at http://blog.stephaniesuesansmith.com.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] did a guest post for Zoodles on using gardens to teach children things beyond what to eat.  Check it out.  There are even curiculum books available so you do not […]

    Pingback by Using the Garden to Teach Children | Information Central — June 27, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

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