Gardening Activities for Kids: Outdoor Classroom Day #DirtIsGood
Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning & play. It’s a day when thousands of schools around the world take their lessons outdoors. Last year, over 2.3 million children got out of the schoolroom to learn outside in the real world!
As a teacher myself, I am a huge advocate of outdoor learning. The enjoyment, sense of wonder & excitement that is generated when children play in & discover their environment is unquestionable. It improves children’s physical & mental health, engages them with learning & leads to a greater connection with nature. Outdoor play also teaches critical life skills such as resilience, teamwork & creativity.
With this in mind, I was shocked to read a recent study that showed the amount of time UK children play outside has decreased by 71%. In fact, 74% of UK children spend less time outdoors than the 60 minutes recommended for prison inmates!
LET’S FIX THIS
Since 2015, Persil has been an avid supporter of Outdoor Classroom Day & this year they want even more kids to get out & learn in the great outdoors. They believe every child should have the opportunity to learn and develop through outdoor play and exploration, and get all families to #EmbraceDirt and experience life, with all its messiness. So ahead of Outdoor Classroom Day, I was challenged by Persil to come up with three fun lessons for my children that can help them learn something new through first hand practical experiences.
To start with I chose a planting & growing theme with links to literacy, numeracy & science. These activities are aimed at children from 2 years upwards.
Lesson 1 – Meg’s Veg Gardening Activities for Kids: Planting & Growing
These fun gardening activities for kids helps them start to understand life-cycles & where food comes from, whilst developing gross & fine motor skills.
My daughter, Sophie, is obsessed with Meg & Mog, especially the ‘Meg’s Veg’ story! She is 3 years old & demands we read it to her most nights. This made it the perfect book to accompany Sophie’s early gardening experiences.
‘Meg’s Veg’ tells the story of Meg and Mog planting some vegetables. Will they grow? Meg’s ‘helpful’ spells have some surprising results!
After reading the story with Sophie several times, we decided to follow the story step by step.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- Meg’s Veg story book (or similar stories e.g. Peppa’s Vegetable Garden, The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle, Oliver’s Vegetables by Vivian French etc.)
- Packets of vegetable seeds (we chose carrots, peas & a pumpkin, just like the Meg’s Veg story)
- A sample of the veg you are going to grow e.g. full size carrot with green top, peas etc.
- An area of garden &/or pots to plant in
- Young child friendly gardening tools e.g. trowel, mini watering can
- Read the story & discuss how the characters grew their vegetables
- Talk to your child about your chosen vegetables, including showing the full sized vegetable samples (shop bought or home-grown) & letting them hold, describe & taste the veg
- Look at the seed packet pictures & instructions & talk about how you will grow the seeds into full size vegetables
Step 1: Prepare the soil
- If planting in a vegetable bed, just follow the story i.e. with your child turn the soil, add compost (muck) if needed & finally rake the surface soil to a smooth consistency ready to plant the seeds
- Alternatively, if planting in pots (like us) get your child to fill the pots with compost & smooth the top. We put pieces of broken terracotta pot in the base before putting in the compost. This helps with drainage.
Step 2: Sow the seeds
- Decide how many seeds/rows you are going to plant. With the bigger seeds, such as peas, you can count them out with your child
- With your child, make holes (or drills) in the soil (read packet to see how deep these have to be & how far apart the seeds need sowing)
- Cover the seeds with some more soil
- Water well – Sophie’s favourite bit – mini-watering can at the ready!
- If using pots, try to position them in a sheltered sunny spot
- If you wish, make labels or write on the pots with chalk/markers or similar
- Wash hands really well!
Just like Meg, we planted (& counted) the peas & pumpkin seeds & also sowed carrots (too small to count!).
Step 3: Build a scarecrow
There are lots of different examples of how to build a scarecrow online which we followed to make our own scarecrow! We put it next to our pots to keep hungry birds away!
Step 4: Weather
- Talk about how the seeds will need sunshine & water in order to grow
- You will probably need to water each day if the seeds are in pots. Watering seeds in the garden will depend on the weather – advice should be on the seed packet!
Each day, we looked out the window to see if it was raining or sunny. We talked, in very simple terms, about the importance of weather on how well the seeds/plants would grow. Sophie was fascinated, if a little impatient, until the seedlings started to show.
Step 5: Pull up the weeds
- Look after your seedlings/plants as they grow, by getting rid of weeds &, if required, gently hoeing/turning the soil over around the plants.
Step 6: Help the plants grow
- Encourage your child to look at their veg each day &, depending on your chosen seeds, check what the seedlings/plants need e.g.
- As the peas grow put in stakes for the tendrils to cling to
- Thin out carrot seedlings giving space for the remaining plants to grow larger
- Keep checking if the plants need watering etc.
Step 7: Pick & Eat!
After a few months the vegetables should be ready to eat! Pick or pull, wash well & either eat raw or use as an accompaniment to a favourite meal. There’s nothing so fulfilling as producing your own food, although in Sophie’s case it’s a close run thing to getting muddy & using her favourite garden tool – the mini-watering can!
Throughout these activities, remember: EMBRACE THE DIRT!
Let them get muddy, let them get dirty
MAKE IT EASIER:
Is your child too young for this activity or a younger sibling wants a go? Are they getting impatient for something to grow? Try these ideas:
- Make a mud kitchen where children just explore soil, sand & water etc. with child-friendly tools/containers
- Grow some cress seeds – they start to grow really quickly & make a good stop gap whilst waiting for your peas, carrots etc. to sprout & mature.
MAKE IT HARDER:
Are you working with an older child who is ready to learn even more or getting impatient for their vegetables to grow? Try these ideas:
- Keep a journal of the stages of planting seeds & their growth e.g. photos, height measurements, drawings etc.
- Make a plant life cycle diagram – just pictorial or with labels depending on your child’s age & stage of development
- Learn the parts of a plant – draw & label
What are you helping your little one to do?
- Learn how to plant & look after seeds
- Notice changes in things i.e. seeds becoming plants & then growing larger
- Start to understand life cycles & where our food comes from
- Know that tools can be used to do different things
- Develop gross motor skills – raking, digging, watering, pulling etc.
Enjoyed this? There’s still time to get involved in Outdoor Classroom Day –
What gardening activities for kids do you love to do? Post your outdoor classroom ideas below!
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**Gardening Activities for Kids is a collaborative post