Green Fingers 💚
We have blogged previously about the importance and benefits of the early years and the great outdoors and how we as practitioners advocate for the first-hand experience of exploring nature. We also, however, encourage children to share their love and experiences taken from forest school and nature and bring it closer to home and into the garden.
There are so many reasons why gardening is important to all of us:
Gardens have a universal appeal. They brighten a dismal world.
Gardening is an art that could be lost if we don’t continue to practice and teach it.
Gardening is good for your health, your soil, and wildlife. It’s a great way to reduce stress, set goals, and learn to nurture something.
Gardening is a great way to become more sustainable at home. We need to know how to produce our own food in case the food system can’t do it for us; a real possibility considering we recently experienced how easily ‘the system’ can break down.
It’s a versatile hobby and a healthy one. You can garden indoors, outdoors, in hanging baskets, pots, buckets, tubs, raised beds, or in the ground.
Exposure to sunlight gives you vitamin D which is good for muscles, teeth, and bones.
Working in a garden is wonderful exercise with low impact. It reduces the risk of dementia as well. There are specific bacteria in soil that can increase levels of serotonin in the human brain. This chemical is responsible for feelings of well-being or happiness.
So why is teaching gardening so important for children?
Gardening in the early years settings supports holistic learning. It supports a learning of maths, science, prereading skills and more. Children improve their physical development as well as perceptual and motor skills. There is so much sensory input in the garden that stimulates a child’s brain connections. They breathe in fresh air, experience weather, practice balance, and develop motor skills when using tools and grasping seeds. It also encourages healthy eating habits as children are more likely to try and taste what they help grow. Gardening encourages curiosity as they watch what happens when they plant seeds and watch plants grow. This also teaches patience and delayed gratification.
Maria Montessori advocated that young children learn best by interactions with their environment and using their senses. First-hand experiences give the children rich opportunities to observe, explore, investigate, and make hypothesis about their environment. It provides them with sensory experiences which forms a firm foundation for all future learning. Children benefit from these sensory experiences supported by explanations and opportunities to ask questions. Gardening activities require adult engagement and support, a prepared environment and appropriate child sized equipment.
So how do we engage children in gardening? Working with children on an everyday basis we as guides are lucky enough to observe them grow and understand the world. We have the unique privilege of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Especially when we visit and nurture our vegetable garden. They are amazed by simple, little things; they can spend ages observing the ant that is trying to transport food, watch snails munching on a leaf and noticing the slow growth of leaves and buds.
Gardening is a whole experience, we use all our senses, we observe the weather, the soil, the plants, we
touch, we smell. Children love to touch and dig the soil! They smell the herbs in the garden and describe what it reminds them of! Especially our home-grown oregano - it smells like pizza apparently! These experiences include a direct relationship with the physical environment sky, clouds, sun, wind, and rain, and they take into consideration learning inside and outside the classroom and are intended to encourage thinking about their opportunities for real life experiences according to their interests. While we grow our plants outside, we help our young learners with a seed growing experience inside; our favourite is lentils on cotton pads.
Gardening in early childhood teaches children from a very young age about the environment. It helps them build respect, love and an appreciation for nature. Taking care of plants and growing healthy food helps develop a child’s confidence as well. It’s exciting to watch the miracle of a seed going from dry and seemingly dead to a living plant that then grows flowers and eventually food. We visit our garden daily; one day we weed, dig and prepare, the other day we plant our seeds, carefully making enough space for
them to grow and spread, then we put the soil back to cover and protect them, and then water, watch and wait. Our children love to put their names on their seeds, taking responsibility for their own plants, encouraging curiosity as they watch what happens after they plant the seeds and wait as the plants grow. This also teaches patience and delays gratification as it takes days and weeks to see the small plant emerging from the soil. Then you see the look of amazement and sense of pride on our children’s faces. Smiling proudly and confidently for the effort and responsibility that they put into the small seed.
In a nutshell, through gardening children understand the world around them, how things grow, life cycles and cause and effect. They build lifelong skills, they work as a team, build social connections and they take care of our planet while also practicing whole body movements. Our young children learn about their immediate environment by exploration, investigation and discovering first-hand experiences of nature and their environment. These experiences lay the foundation for later, more formal learning about the natural and manmade environments found on our planet. Children also experience the interdependence of all life on earth, and they start to make connections by observing the relationships between plants and insects in the garden and exploring the natural food chain. And, if we are lucky, we get a plate full of lovely vegetables for our snack tables!
Jane & Katerina both work at Little Gems Montessori Nursery in Nicosia. Gardening is considered an invaluable part of our daily routines where our planting projects follow the herbs and vegetables' natural seasons. At the moment our garden patch and allotment are filled with smells of oregano, sage, lavender and more. Lovely tastes of berries such as mulberries are available too!
Please contact us should you want to learn more about Little Gems Montessori’s approach to gardening in the early years: firstname.lastname@example.org.