2021 was a summer of greenery, plants, gardening and growth. During the summer of 2021 I was hired into my local school district in Michigan to teach gardening with kids. I was the elementary enrichment teacher for the summer. Nothing beats working in nature all day and having a garden as a classroom. It was by far one of my best teaching experiences.
I was an alumni of the school and the population has not changed much since I was attended; it is largely middle class, a large Muslim population specifically from the Arab nations. It is a Title 1 school with a decently sized refugee population. I mention this because they were often able to identify edible “weeds” which was fun; they had a decent connection with gardening as many families were growing gardens at their homes. If they did not know what the name of a food/plant was in English, we brainstormed what it could be in Arabic. For example, our radishes had different names among the different dialects of Arabic, so that was fun exploring language in such an organic way.
Throughout the week students from grades PreK-5 came to our garden for days filled with movement, work, art and play. I think it goes without saying that there are massive benefits to teaching gardening for children, but maybe some were less obvious. For example, the children understood how delicate life is as they raised saplings and transplanted them. They had a new appreciation for the food they harvested after seeing how diligently our plants worked after given the right amount of love, water and soil. They understood science was life, they were surrounded by science and science always had a definitive explanation as to what was happening.
As promised, I wanted to share some activities we did this summer. Most are fairly common, but if you’re in need of putting together a unit on gardening this comprehensive list could help with that.
Gardening With Kids: Seed to Sapling
During week one, after a quick tour of the garden, we went right to work. We were planting our garden very late in the season, around the end of June, so we had to quickly start growing our saplings. Most students, even without having been formally taught, knew the life cycle of a seed and knew what seeds require to grow. So we set to work planting.
- Small paper cups, with holes in the bottom for drainage
- Potting soil
- Seeds (our most successful ones were: beans, beets, marigolds, nasturtiums)
We attempted to grow carrots, but learned that those should be planted directly into the ground as they are root vegetables and root vegetables are temperamental when it comes to movement. By far, the most successful, and easiest, plant to grow (given the heat, time of year and rain) were radishes and sunflowers. Both plants simply needed to be placed within the soil and nature took over from there. We also tried to grow tomatoes, but it was quite late in the season and Michigan was also plagued with abnormally torrential rains (in come the talks on climate change) so they didn’t fare too well.
Gardening With Kids: Capillary Action
This has the common name of ‘walking rainbow’ online, but it’s a simple activity to teach how water travels up a stem.
- Clear cups
- Fibrous paper towel (the more cellulose within the paper towel the faster the water will travel upward)
- Food coloring
Gardening With Kids: Oodles & Oodles of Crafts
Naturally there is a lot of waiting while teaching gardening. The below crafts were easy enough to procure for over 200 students. The rock painting activity was a hit and a bag of 20lb rocks only cost $5 at the hardware stores.
Gardening With Kids: Teambuilding
During the first week each grade level did different team building activities. Vivify STEM has some fantastic team building activities, including a bundle filled with them. I did meet 5th grade twice a week and made sure to dedicate one class session solely for collaborating and team building.
Gardening With Kids: Maintence & Harvesting
We had to maintain the garden as the weeks went on. The first two weeks were dedicated to pulling out the weeds within the beds and identifying what the weeds were. We also identified the parts and functions of the weeds which led us to composting. We discussed composting using the weeds and shortly after filled each bed with humus. Throughout the weeks, even if we did not have anything to do in the garden, we made our way out to pull weeds and check on our plants. Luckily we received a lot of rain in Michigan so we did not have to water the beds at all. In the end our most bountiful harvest were our radishes, every student was able to take one home.
Gardening With Kids: Downtime
We have some decent sized playgrounds at the school, but I thought it was important to let the children have downtime in the garden. We played group games like duck-duck-goose (and yes even 5th graders love this game), freeze tag and red light/green light. However, I thought it was important to let them get creative in the garden space. Other than the beds there wasn’t much else out in the garden. Students were forced to look at the trees, take a closer look at what was growing in the beds and conversations just organically flowed. It is not often that kids in an urban setting have time to just be in a garden so I thought it was important to provide space just for that.
Climate Change & STEM Challenges
It’s hard to deny climate change. The world was ravaged with fires, floods and record high heats this summer. Our last two weeks of summer school were dedicated towards STEM challenges that focused on habitats that have changed due to climate change (rainforest turning into a savanna, bleached coral and melting permafrost). We then decided on daily action we can take to help combat climate change. These were two fairly profound weeks, students were concerned with the destruction of nature, but also very forward with the positive action they can take to fix it. I even had students purchase metal straws (small wins).
I created two resources for this mini unit. One resource teaches students about corporate greenwashing, one on switching products to be more eco friendly and the other on climate change and habitats. You can find them at my TpT store.
Definitely Give Try
The more we are disconnected from nature the worse things will get. If it is available to you, incorporate nature into your students’ lives in any way shape or form.