This is one of my absolute favorite topics to teach! It is all about hands-on activities and exploration. Kids should be planting, digging, observing, pulling apart. It’s a great opportunity to be active! I know that sounds contrary to what our blog is about…I mean, our goal is to get your kids to simply love books, right?
Well, this is absolutely one way to get them excited about reading! If they have the opportunity to explore a topic hands on, they become excited to read about their personal experience in a book. This closely follows Charlotte Mason’s ideas of teaching using rich literature and “living books.”
Think about it, you have created a garden, even if it’s just a container garden on your patio or balcony, they watch little sprouts come up, they water, fertilize, and care for this plant until it’s time to harvest. What an accomplishment! Then, you offer them a book reiterating and confirming the things they have observed. They will be so excited to share this affirming knowledge with you! It’s the perfect opportunity for your child to learn to enjoy reading, as well as experience the magic that books have to offer.
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Here are some things you can do to cultivate magical experiences with your child and nature:
Try Square Foot Gardening
The goal of Square Foot Gardening is to “encourage gardening, plant-based living, self-sufficiency, and low-impact food production.”
I was able to use this method with my fifth grade students last year, and I found that the kids loved it! Their sense of accomplishment while harvesting the vegetables was what made the whole project worthwhile.
This type of gardening is perfect for all ages. It has great tie-ins with math and science. For math, with younger students you can practice counting and easily move into more complex math strategies like finding area with older children. Measurement is obviously a huge factor when planning the garden. This includes practicing using a ruler, measuring the spacing between seeds, and laying out the square foot plant bed. These ideas for math are just scratching the surface of what you will be able to teach while working with your kids.
In regards to science, you will obviously be able to cover the life cycle of a plant, which is truly magical to witness. Every new season I love to see the plants change! You will also have the opportunity to talk about seasons as you decide which plants to include in your garden. Other great topics will be caring for plants, insects and other garden friends you will encounter, and even cooking lessons!
Some other skills the square foot gardening website shares are:
- Basic construction (building a 3’ x 3’ box and the grid)
- Planning (sourcing materials, organizing seeds, planning what to plant and when)
- Water conservation (how to properly water plants to avoid wasting it)
- Growing food (vegetables, fruits, herbs)
The book offers step-by-step guides that walk you through the process of growing your own square foot garden. There is also a great book specifically designed for taking on this kind of project with your kids:
Another great hands-on activity is to carefully take apart and label all the parts of the plants. Taking the time to dissect flowers and closely observe each part is important to help kids understand the life cycle of a plant.
There are numerous lesson plans you could find to do this online. In the past, I have used AIMS (Activities in Math and Science activity books to help me with this lesson). Another great resource is Green Education Foundation. They have very detailed plans to help guide you through teaching your little one about the plant parts. They even offer some tips on specific flowers you should consider using, and some background information that is important to cover beforehand.
The Nature Notebook Series
A friend of ours, Kelly, has recently taken on an incredible project where she republished a fantastic series of notebooks that help kids interact more with nature. Here is more information about it in her words:
The Nature Notebook Series was created by beloved scientist, professor, author and the mother of nature-study herself, Miss Anna Comstock of Cornell. She published the notebooks in the early 1900’s, but they were never printed again after their first printings.
Now, over one hundred years later, HearthRoom Press has set out to republish these works and make them available for the modern student. So far that has included Notes on Common Animals, Notes on Birds (Book 1 & Book 2), Notes on Plants, Notes on Composite Flowers and Notes on Fishes. Notes on Trees will be available soon.
Anna Comstock is well known among educators for her publication, The Handbook of Nature-Study for parents and teachers. These newly republished notebooks, however, are for the student. Each notebook has several illustrations, some prompted forms for the student to fill in, and space for the student to draw, also.
The Handbook of Nature Study is available on the Internet Archive, and it would be wise to look over the first chapter of the book to learn exactly what nature-study is, and what it isn’t. Comstock’s method is valuable in many ways, encouraging slow observation, joint investigation, and a love and connection with the world around us.
Books to Pair with Your Activities
“This stylish, highly illustrated, interactive book is perfect for sharing with young children, and introduces science using a friendly lift-the-flap format. A great introduction to one of the fundamental themes of biology, perfect for curious young minds.”
Appropriate for ages 3 and up.
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole for PreK – 2nd grade.
Secrets of the Vegetable Garden Shine-a-Light
by Carrin Brown & Giordano Poloni
“A vegetable garden grows under the sun. If you look closely between the stalks, beneath the leaves, and under the soil, you will spot the animals and plants living there. Hold a page up to the light to reveal what is hidden in and around the vegetable garden, and discover a small world of great surprises.” Appropriate for ages 4-8 years old.
The Amazing Life Cycle of Plants: Look and Wonder by Kay Barnham
In a Nutshell by Joseph Anthony for Kindergarten – 4th grade.
The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony for Kindergarten – 4th grade.
Pick, Pull Snap!: Where Once a Flower Bloomed
by Lola M. Schaefer for Kindergarten – 4th grade.
“An imaginative nature-themed activity book for young children, packed with different things to do. As well as lots of coloring and stickering, there are mazes, spotting puzzles, dot to dot, step-by-step drawing, and lots more. Fascinating facts about animals, plants, insects and different natural environments are incorporated into the activities.”
Appropriate for ages 4 and up.
“This activity book is a brilliantly detailed, fun, and interactive way to learn about different habitats, animals, and plants. Take quizzes about woodland creatures, color beautiful butterflies and beetles, spot sea creatures washed up on a seashore, do a maze to help beaver pups find their way back home, identify garden bugs, and lots, lots more.”
Appropriate for ages 6 and up.