Inch By Inch, Row By Row: The Value of the Classroom Garden

Every Preschool, Nursery School, and Daycare Center should definitely be growing some sort of plant, ideally an edible, as part of the enriching environment. It doesn’t matter if it is a window box, a garden, or a muffin pan with paper cups sprouting radishes from potting soil, kids should be growing something in their place of learning. Many parents remember growing chia, or a bean, or a radish in a paper cup as children, it’s a classic science lesson. However, we can take it a step further; teaching children why everyone needs plants is a vitally important educational experience.

When kids help to grow plants they learn so much more than just how plants grow. They learn about the entire ecosystem, what do plants eat, what eats the plants, and who eats the animals who eat the plants? How do plants turn CO2 into oxygen? How does pollination work, and who does it? How to plants turn sunlight into food? Where does food come from? How much work does it take to grow one ear of corn, or one tomato? These questions will arise naturally and the best way to learn the answers is to be hands-on. Hands on learning stays in the mind much longer than learning by reading or watching. Especially for young children, using their hands is how we can get to their brains. They will remember always how they dug in the dirt, put in a bean, added water and sunlight, and grew a whole beanstalk.

Children will learn a new respect for food, and get more excited about trying new fruits and vegetables when they have grown them themselves. Everyone will want to taste a strawberry right off the plant, or try nibbling mint leaves and nasturtium flowers. They will take what they learn in the classroom garden to the grocery store and may surprise parents by asking them for a vegetable to eat “like the one I have at school”.

Children will also learn to respect growing plants as they navigate their world, and leave them be rather than ripping off leaves and stems as children often do. They will also encounter and learn to respect their garden friends like the ladybird beetle, butterflies, earthworms, and even bees. No more squishing of the bugs, now they are friends and helpers.

When scouting for a childcare center or preschool parents should be on the lookout for a classroom that incorporates daily gardening activity. Even small schools without outdoor space can get in on it. If the #1 school choice does not have a gardening element, ask the director if they would appreciate a parent volunteer willing to make a little class gardening happen, then be that parent! It does not need to be a big deal, and does not even need outdoor space if it isn’t possible. Here are a few items any school can add to get kids interested in food gardening and gardening science, even those who are short on space:

  • Start a classroom kitchen herb garden! All that’s needed is a shelf and some small pots to grow chives, parsley, basil, thyme, mint, and oregano. Children will enjoy tasting and smelling the herbs.
  • Oyster Mushroom growing kits! Sold online and a variety of other places, children can participate in the rapid growth of delicious edible mushrooms that are ready to eat in just a few days
  • Outdoor container garden! If the playground is not a place for a garden, there are lots of fruits and vegetables that can be grown in beautiful pots all over the outdoor area, even hanging from above. With the aid of a fence, even pumpkins and squashes can be grown from a container. Strawberries, blueberries, ground cherries, potatoes, dwarf fruit trees, and tomatoes all do very well in containers.
  • Help start a school-wide garden with parent support. The children will get so much out of being able to turn and dig the soil, plant, and water. Radishes and beans give almost instant results, but don’t be afraid to get creative and plant something like a birdhouse gourd or loofah squash that children can later craft with.

Whether inside or outside, large or small, all children will have lifelong benefits from a gardening experience, benefits that cannot be had at a desk. Start a school garden project or support a school garden project, sow seeds and kids will reap the educational benefits.

Prime Time Early Learning Centers strongly values teaching children about nature and valuing the earth that supports us. Our Middletown Center that serves families in Middletown, Mechanicstown, Goshen and surrounding areas in Orange County, New York and our Edgewater Center in New Jersey that serves Fort Lee and Cliffside Park families are planning their fall curriculum, both of which include having the children plant seeds for autumn blooming herbs and flowers in the Pre-K classrooms.