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.

June 14, 2010

7 fun and frugal summertime activities

Filed under: Family Activities — Tags: , , , , , , , — Erin @ 10:18 am

Contributed by Danae G.

Contributed by Danae G. Zoodles Marketing Team

Wondering what to do with your children this summer that won’t break the bank (they can’t play Zoodles all day now that we’ve added our play timer!)? Creativity and advanced planning are your best bets for building fun family memories that you can enjoy, guilt-free.

Visit the library.

libraryThe library is not what it used to be! But they’re still completely free. They have kiddie computers, child soft seating, and baskets of toys to encourage free play. Children have their own DVD section, books on tape (great for car rides), and story time is quickly being rivaled by the library’s free summer reading program. This is an excellent program that gets kids really excited about reading books (they can even win prizes!). This summer my local library’s having Rubber Band Car Races, a puppeteer show, and at some point, a fireworks display. All really fun stuff that I wouldn’t have thought would be available through a library.

Dollar movies.

Check with your nearby theaters to see if they offer summer movie clubs. This typically means you pay a reduced cost if you take the kids to a movie during the week. No, you’re not going to see Disney’s latest release, but they usually show pretty good children’s movies that most kids will enjoy. Word to the wise, if you don’t want to spend all that you just saved at the concession stand, pack some snacks to enjoy once you are inside the movies.

Turn on the sprinklers.

Tsprinklershis is one of the best ways to cool off when it’s hot out! Delay the sprinklers so they come on later in the morning than usual. Kids love getting wet and will be entertained for hours (assuming your local water supply and water bill allows!). Besides watering the grass, there is really no clean up like you would have if you pulled out the kiddie pool. And I don’t know about you, but I like NO CLEAN UP!

Explore your neighborhood.

When my kids were little we walked around the block almost everyday. Granted, they are likely to say “that sounds boring”, but once they’re on the walk, they usually change their minds. When you’re at the library, pick up a book on edible plants and trees so when you go on your walk, the kids can try and identify what they could live on if they were “lost in the forest.”

Set up a lemonade stand.

lemonadeI just love the entrepreneurship lessons involved in this one! Loan the kids some “seed money” for supplies. Take them to the store and have them pick up the necessities like cups, lemons, and sugar. A powdered mix is fine but it’s a lot more expensive, less authentic, and not nearly as fun to make. Whether the kids are inside (preparing the world’s best lemonade) or outside, remember to have an adult with them at all times. And not just because they tend to drink up the profits!

Check out local museums.

There are probably several museums nearby that you’ve never heard of before. And most of them are free.  Do a search on Google or post a question on your Facebook and let local friends and family share their favorite spots. Spending time together as a family and learning about new things is a wonderful combination any time of year. Plus, if you walk the kids around long enough, they are likely to fall asleep in the car on the ride home!

Smores and backyard camping.

smoresWhat kid doesn’t like building a fire after dark and roasting marshmallows? This, in and of itself, makes for a fun and exciting evening any day of the week. But why stop there? Dust off your tent, unroll those sleeping bags, and sleep under the stars to create an unforgettable experience for children of all ages. No need to pack the car, drive for 2 hours, or make reservations a year in advance. Just open your back door! Build a campfire, tell silly stories, and play flashlight tag. Don’t forget your cell phone (no reception problems here!). There are some great constellation apps available that are sure to thrill even the finickiest of children. It’s amazing what we can teach our kids these days, right from the comfort of our very own backyards.

backyardDo you have any ideas to share? Please leave us a comment, We’d love to hear from you! And remember, the kids will be off to college (or at least back in school) before you know it. Make the most of the short time you have with them by building fun family memories that can be cherish for years to come.

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