Helping Young Children Practice Science Skills By Planting a Garden

Child Care February 08, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

There are so many things young children can learn as they help plant and tend a garden in your child care program. Even 2 and 3 year olds can begin to understand: Soil + Seed + Sun + Water = Plant. Encourage toddlers to use their senses to smell the soil and feel the warmth of the sun and the wetness of the water; watch the shoots come through the soil, and enjoy the beauty of the plants.

Indoor Garden

Place all plants in a sunny, warm area; try a south-facing windowsill. Clear plastic containers with raised lids, like those some pies and cookies come in, make perfect miniature greenhouses. Fill an aluminum foil pan with potting soil, punch some holes in the bottom for drainage, and plant and water the seeds. Put the foil pan in a clear plastic container. The seeds sprout very quickly. Raise the lid occasionally to let excess moisture escape.

Another method of indoor gardening is to use heavy duty Ziplocs. Fill a quart or gallon freezer bag with dirt, plant a few seeds in the dirt, water well, and seal shut. Green onions, radishes, lettuce and herbs can be grown in plastic bags. Tape the filled bags to a sunny window.

You can also use parts of the following fruits and vegetables to grow new plants:

  • Carrots: After trimming off the leaves, cut 1/2-1 inch off the top of the carrot. Place the top in a layer of pebbles in a flat dish. Be sure to keep the carrot tops well watered as they grow.
  • Pineapple: Cut off the top of the pineapple and trim off the bottom three rows of leaves. Let dry for three days. Plant 1" deep in soil. Keep the plants moist and sunny.
  • Avocado: Set the large end of an avocado seed in a jar of water, using three toothpicks to support the seed. Sprout the seed in partial sunlight. When the stem is about 4-5 inches tall, plant the avocado in soil.
  • Onion: Find an onion that is already sprouted. Plant the onion in soil and watch it grow.

Provider showing a sunflower to two preschool children multicultural.jpg

Outdoor Garden

Take a walk around the outside of the building and look for spots that have good sunlight, are easy to get water to, and aren't in the way of somebody else trying to have fun in the yard. Another thing to note is the soil. Are there things growing there now? If weeds are growing really well, probably vegetables and flowers will also.

You also might like to get a spot where people can see it, and you can show it off to everybody. For programs that have multiple ages of children, it might be good to place the garden outside of the play area to control access to the plants. An adult can then take a few children at a time to work in the garden.

  • Choose plants that mature quickly and will do well in your climate conditions.
  • Choose crops that mature quickly: lettuce, radishes, sunflowers, spinach, bush beans and zucchini.
  • Plants you can grow that do well in the shade include lettuce, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, mustard, impatiens, begonias and coleus.
  • Grow veggies and flowers you like. Look through garden catalogs and cut out favorite vegetables and flowers.

Activity suggestions:

Create a journal of your gardening experience. A journal could contain a map of the garden, seeds that were planted, the weather condition, pictures of what flowers were grown, visitors to the garden; bees, bugs, birds & butterflies that were seen in the garden; and photos of the vegetables that were harvested.

Eat the food you grow. Have a salad party or help prepare a recipe using "your" vegetables.

For more tips on gardening with children see My First Garden: A Guide to the World of Fun and Clever Gardening from the University of Illinois Extension.