By Melissa Wilcox
Gardening with toddlers can be a fun and dirty project! At home, I find it easier to let my children have their own raised bed that they can choose what to plant, and help take care of. It also helps with adults (like me), who want order and straight lines to have a designated “kids garden.”
In the Alder Room, we use a small hand shovel to pull weeds that we notice daily, and put them into a bucket. This is a great time for the children to learn the names of plants and flowers, and to feel the satisfaction of pulling out a weed.
After the last frost is over, we begin to get our raised garden bed ready, and start seed germination in our classroom. Toddlers are naturally very good at tilling a raised bed. As we pull out weeds, we talk about tilling the soil to get it ready for our new plants. We observe worms and other bugs. We often dump out a bag of fresh soil and spread it around the bed. This can be an all morning project, as the children are excited to play in the dirt!
The first seeds that we plant are usually radishes. We cut out strips of newspaper and put a line of glue on the paper. While the glue is wet, we let the toddlers place the small radish seeds so carefully on the paper. After the glue has dried, we plant the pieces of paper in rows in our raised bed. Radishes germinate very quickly, and are edible when we pull them!
We plant our sunflower or nasturtium seeds in the classroom. With 12 toddlers who want to do seed germination, we have found it best to use clear plastic drinking cups. They are easy for toddlers to fill with dirt, can’t hold too much water, and we can reuse them in our room. (At home, I suggest using Peat Pots. Once they have sprouted, you just carefully tear the bottoms off and plant the whole pot.)
After the children have planted a seed or two, they place them in the window sill and we cover them with a clear plastic top (cling wrap, take out container lid, whatever you can find). Once the seeds sprout, we carefully carry them out to the garden to plant. I usually do the small digging and take out each seedling for the children to observe. We talk about holding it carefully, and we gently touch the roots while talking about how they are like a straw to help the plant get water. I really like sunflower seeds, because many times the seed is still attached to a small leaf, and it brings it all together for the children to see. Most sunflowers will eventually become taller than the toddlers, and it is absolutely amazing to see them recognize that a tiny seed became a huge plant!! They often say, “Its growing like me!”
We spend most of our spring watching our sunflowers, nasturtiums, and radishes grow. We will dig up worms and place them in the flower beds so they can “help our soil.”
Another plant that the children love to plant and eat is kale. The children have been snacking on fresh kale that the Primary children planted in their beds. We have been observing the blueberry blossoms and talk about how we need the bees to pollinate the flowers so we can have blueberries to eat. Later this spring and into the summer they will enjoy snap peas, pole beans, and watch the pumpkins sprout.