We sometimes think of gardening as an adult activity, and sometimes especially for older people This can get reinforced when we give in to our children’s wishes to watch screens of some sort instead of being outdoors. But gardening is actually a wonderful way for children to have fun and, at the same time, gain important knowledge and skills.

Renowned Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, introduced the theory of unstructured, open-ended play based learning to the educational and social world. He promised that it held untold benefits for children, including:

• The development of confidence and independence
• The development of resilience
• The development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills

It’s often difficult to find space in education to allow children the freedom to truly play. We face a very structured curriculum that leads our children, often quite quickly, through a series of skills that don’t often reflect their actual interests.

Offering children the chance to be involved in nature play, particularly in their own backyards, provides an opportunity for parents and caregivers to allow time and space for this wonderful learning to take place.

How can my Garden become a Classroom?

Any outdoor space that you have – be it a big backyard or an apartment balcony – is the perfect breeding ground for learning.

Children are born curious. They love to learn about new concepts and approach the natural world with wonder and awe. Allowing them space in your home to garden, care for plants, learn about sustainability and take on new projects will both tap into this natural sense of wonder and instil in them the importance of caring for their environment.

Applying Vygotskian theory means that you will provide the parameters for learning and then allow children to take over. They will become so immersed in their project, and so full of spontaneous joy at creating and exploring, that their little minds will happily forge connections to extend their learning beyond the school classroom.

What are some Garden Projects I can do with my Child?

These ideas will depend, of course, on the age of your children, the amount of space you have and your budget.

You could…
• Design and construct a garden with your children.
• Research the best vegetables to grow in your climate, how to care for them and their seasonal growth patterns.
• Grow vegetables that you can eat as a family.
• Create a succulent garden.
• Get creative with recycling! Repurpose things like old plastic bottles to become hanging planters.
• Learn about garden care. Allow children to become the gatekeepers against weeds and other elements that might threaten the garden.
• Create a peaceful green space to encourage your children to spend time outdoors away from screens and connected to nature.

The possibilities are endless!

Promoting Entrepreneurship through Sustainability

Ingenuity, creativity and innovation are skills that will help your child. The ability to approach a situation, assess possibilities and create a positive outcome will help them not only in school but in life as well. Our world needs more ACTION instead of passive consumers – and this is where gardening can come into action.

Alex is 10 years old and has been gardening with his mother his whole life. They have created a seasonal garden that they enjoy eating from year-round. Alex and his mum have their own backyard chickens who supply an endless source of eggs and companionship.

Alex realised that many of his neighbours liked his garden but didn’t have time or knowledge to start their own. So Alex took matters into his own hands.

Alex decided to grow seedlings into juvenile plants that he then potted. Once these plants were established (he typically chose things like tomato and basil), he offered them to his neighbours at a competitive price that was far cheaper than the big-name gardening stores they’d bought from before. His plants were healthy, hardy and of good quality.

Alex put a lot of effort into his small business. He did things like…

• Research plant care
• Communicate with his neighbours about what kinds of plants they would like
• Plan, adjust and rework his garden when necessary
• Care for his plants from infancy to maturity
• Budget his funds to make sure he could care for his plants and then make profit off their sale

This simple, old-fashioned idea saw Alex connect his love of sustainability and nature to learning and the application of real-life skills. Rather than learn about these theories in a classroom, he got his hands dirty and saw this project through from start to finish. That’s the kind of application of knowledge that gardening with children can provide.

How to go about it

Speak to your own children about the importance of gardening and ask them if they have any projects they would like to try. Offer them as many nature play and natural learning experiences as possible. Show them the benefits of sustainability – from growing your own produce to recycling waste. Teaching our children to garden means we are teaching them how to grow, create and care. Which is exactly the kind of thinking our world so desperately needs.

This is a guest post from Louise Lavery, Families Magazine, a print and online resource for families with children aged 0-12.