Gardening is an excellent kindergarten curriculum. It gets us outside, and that’s always good, but it also provides a way for young children to truly interact with their environment. Young children learn through exploration, through engaging with the world in a sensory-rich and hands-on active way.
Gardening is perfect first science: Taking actions and sitting back to observe the results.
Gardening is perfect first art: Envisioning and working with tools and materials to create something beautiful.
And like all purposeful work in the home, gardening promotes a healthy home life. Your garden needs your attention, it needs you to be outside and away from your computer. Your garden thrives on rhythm, regular watering and weeding (you can leave your smartphone inside). Your garden is a place to tell stories, to sing, to be quiet and listen to the birds or watch the squirrels together. Your garden requires you to slow down and be connected to the rhythms of nature, the water cycle, the climate and geology of your area, the life cycle, the plant and animal and mineral kingdoms that sustain us. Your garden provides the very best sustenance for your family table. Your garden provides a link to the rhythms of the past and to the ecology of a sustainable future. Your garden gets your body moving and provides the physical work and rhythmical movement that our bodies thrive on.
How to get started with gardening
Gardening is a fabulous activity for people of all ages, even if you are a complete beginner and have no idea what you’re doing. The act of planting a seed or even a small seedling and watching it grow, bloom, fruit, and go to seed is an act of miraculous everydayness. It’s a deep expression of faith, dependence, hope, and capability all at once. I recommend you get some great books and just jump in. Go all out with a raised bed if you can, join a community garden if you want, raise herbs on a windowsill at the least. Expect it to be a more difficult, fascinating, discouraging, fun and healing experience than you imagine.
We currently live in a city apartment with a shady concrete patio. We make it a habit to explore and enjoy all of the abundant nature in our city, but gardening on the scale that we did when we lived in North Carolina is not at all realistic. I think gardening still needs to be a part of our lives, though, and I hope that it will be for your family too.
How to garden with your kindergartener
Make gardening part of your rhythm
I recommend that you make gardening part of your kindergarten rhythm in the spring, summer, and early fall months. Some families designate gardening to be the work of a particular day, just as they have a day for baking, for handwork, etc. What I always liked to do was spend the first hour or two of our day outside in the yard. We would go outside right after breakfast and the children would play and I would putter about in the garden, in between pushing on the swing and everything else. It will look different now that we live in the city; we will make tending our container garden part of our daily rhythm just as we head out for our walk. If you join a community garden you could put gardening into your weekly rhythm and spend a couple hours there two or three days a week.
Provide the right tools
Any activity with young children will be more successful and fun if you provide the right tools for them. I like to keep child-size rakes, shovels, spades, buckets, and watering cans on hand. Children also love to have their own pair of gardening gloves and a child-size wheelbarrow or wagon for hauling mulch, soil, or compost. A sprinker attached to a garden hose is the perfect way to rinse off before heading back inside. Make sure they have a patch of soil where they can dig, mush, and model however they like.
Let the children play
Young children can be involved in gardening in so many ways, but the main thing is to let them come to you. Your job as the parent-teacher in a Waldorf-inspired kindergarten is to engage in purposeful, rhythmical, creative, and meaningful work, and allow your children to join you as it fits into their play. Gardening is probably my favorite way to engage in meaningful work alongside my children because they can run around and play to their heart’s content while I keep my hands and heart busy in the garden. And when they want to garden as well there are so many ways to get them involved.
snacking right from the vine
helping in the kitchen
I think it’s also really lovely to provide a little space for the children to plant their own garden however they wish!
Resources for getting started with gardening
Roots Shoots Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy
Sunflower Houses by Sharon Lovejoy
Gardening with Young Children by Beatrys Lockie
Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole
And one of my favorite picture books And the Good Brown Earth by Kathy Henderson