Gardening with Preschoolers

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Garden Yoga pose “Seeds”—Photo courtesy Leanne Manning

This summer several sites across the U.S. are piloting a gardening curriculum with preschoolers.  This curriculum, developed by Nebraska Extension and Texas A & M Extension, teaches children about the parts of the plant.  While it sounds simple, they are learning much more than the parts of the plant as they go through  lessons like how to plants seeds, how stems take up nutrients to help plants grow,  eating healthy foods grown in the garden, and about being patient.  It is hard work to wait for your turn to plant your seeds or to wait for your seeds to sprout.  Here are some tips shared by the National Association for the Education of Young Children to help make gardening with young children go a little more smoothly.

  1. Be prepared. Find out what grows best in your area.  Prep the garden area before the children join you.  Have many tools available for lots of little hands.
  2. Chill out. Children will plant 25 seeds in one small hole.  They will plant the leaves instead of the roots in the soil.  Other children will undo what one child has just completed.  Things will happen and it is best to just relax and go with the flow.  Everyone will enjoy it much more if you do.
  3. Have a “can-do” garden. Find all the ways the children can be involved in the garden.  Yes, you may plant those seeds. Yes, you may dig in the dirt. Yes, you can use the hand tools, and yes, you can water the plants.  When attention wanders, allow the children to move to other tasks.  We have incorporated garden yoga into the gardening time and the children love the movement.
  4. Eat what you grow. Remember children are great imitators and if they see you eating and enjoying vegetables from the garden, they too will develop a liking for them.
  5. Have fun! Pretend play is important in all children’s development so see what ideas they come up with for garden fun.  Placing an old chalkboard along the garden path can be fun for impromptu chalk art. Bring out a small pool to have water fun in the garden. Old pots and pans can be hung on the fence and used as “musical” instruments.  The list of ideas is as varied as you make it.  That reminds me, we need to try some singing in the garden.  I fondly remember picking strawberries with my mother in the garden and learning many childhood songs.

 

Source: https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/7-tips-vegetable-gardening

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child, Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Nature’s Gifts

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Have you ever given thought to all the benefits to children of letting them explore the natural world?  When they are outdoors and climbing trees, skipping stones, scaling rocks, or rolling down the hill they are getting much needed physical activity which can help curb childhood obesity.

The visual beauty of nature also has a calming effect on children.  They can relax, breathe deeply, and reflect on their surroundings.  Think about when you were young and you laid down in the grass and looked for shapes among the clouds in the sky and how relaxing that experience was.  Children can also use their senses to explore nature.  Ask them, “What do you hear as you stand here under the trees?  What do you smell or what does the branch of the evergreen tree smell like?”  Try taking paint chips to the outdoors and give them to children to go and find something in nature that matches the color of the paint chip.  Use the sense of touch to feel the texture on a plant’s leaves, the bark on the tree, the surface of a rock, or the roughness of a pine cone.

By having children care for a plant or garden they are learning to be responsible.  If they don’t water a plant it might suffer or die.  The same goes for caring for a pet.  This helps children develop empathy as they make the connection between their timely and responsive care giving to their pet’s or plant’s well-being.

Give children tools to further their nature exploration.  Some ideas include:  collection boxes, small hand tools like shovels or trowels, packets of seeds to plant, a bucket or tub for water play, magnifying glasses, binoculars, pencils, crayons and paper.  Having nature-related storybooks will also encourage children to explore outdoors.

Adults can help children explore nature by planning developmentally appropriate activities and by taking children on trips to parks or other nature areas.  Adults can take infants outside and talk to them about what they are seeing or hearing, for example, “Do you hear that cow mooing?  Cows use mooing to talk to each other.”  When children get older, ask them higher level questions about cows such as, “Where do cows live?  What types of food do cows eat?” It is also important to let children explore on their own.  When given the time to freely experience nature, they will build their own relationship and sense of wonder with nature.

Source: Children and Nature: Are We Supporting the Connection? extension.psu.edu/programs/betterkidcare/early-care/tip-pages/all/children-and-nature-are-we-supporting-the-connection.

LEANNE MANNING, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Lisa Poppe, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Road Scholars: My Reflections

 

Last week, I had an opportunity to participate in a three-day tour that began in Douglas County and ended in Scottsbluff.  During the tour, I had an opportunity to visit the Raising Nebraska exhibit, the West Central Research and Extension Center, Cedar Point Biological Station, Lake McConaughy Visitor/Water Interpretive Center, Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Western Sugar Factory, Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory and the Wagonhammer Education Center.

As a state coordinator, I wanted to take this trip for several reasons. First, as new Extension Educator personnel I wanted to learn more about UNL Extension facilities throughout the state.  Second, I thought it was important to see local communities, and learn more about the strengths and challenges each faced.  Finally, as an early childhood professional, I also wanted to network and meet innovative people in the region outside of my field’s discipline.

My favorite location was the Raising Nebraska site.  If you’d like to visit the Raising Nebraska exhibit please join me August 26th, 2017 and The Learning Child team in the Raising Nebraska exhibit at the Presentation Stage during the State Fair! – http://www.statefair.org

Our team will have an interactive hands-on activity based on Head To Toe by Eric Carle.  We will have Kids Yoga and other physical activity games for children to participate in.

 Raising Nebraska

I learned this exhibit was a collaborative effort between three major partners including the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR), University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and the Nebraska State Fair. The goal of this exhibit was designed to help visitors understand the larger picture of what it takes to plan, prepare, and present food.  It was the first time I learned about how a pivot works and the various innovations currently at work in our state addressing economic impact and local hunger. Before leaving, I took a quick detour outside to see the natural playground exhibit. Check out some of the photos to explore the outside play spaces.

 

 

Image Source: Linda Reddish

LINDA REDDISH, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD

Peer Reviewed by Sarah M Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child

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Get Back to Nature!

After 70 degree temps earlier this month, I was snowed in at home due to ice and white out conditions.  That’s nature in Nebraska.  We could think of all kinds of reasons to be negative about the weather, but I say, “Let it Snow!”  I remember as a child the many fond memories of playing in the snow with my family, and it was something to look forward to each winter season.  Sledding, making snowmen and snow forts and exploring the different types of snow (such as the kind that easily packs together for building versus the light and dryer type of snow) allows children to connect with nature and the outdoors, while at the same time building their sense of creativity, problem solving, motor skills, and social emotional development.

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Last month I delivered a program to childcare center directors where we focused on spaces to learn and grow and the importance of designing outdoor spaces for children in our care to experience nature.  No matter what season it is, research indicates that children who have opportunities to experience their natural environments have the ability sustain concentration, delay gratification, and cope with stressors in their lives.  Research done in the Netherlands demonstrated the distance one lives from the nearest green space and the prevalence of many major illnesses including Anxiety disorder and depression in children under age 12. According to Louise Chawla, Professor of Planning and Urban Design from the University of Colorado, “Adults in many studies report that memories of a special place in nature experience in their childhood gives them a pool of calm on which they can draw in difficult times.”

When designing spaces for children, I advise childcare providers to include a balance of natural spaces and play equipment. Include areas with small trees, and perhaps a water feature and patches of soil to explore as well as to garden in. Play equipment that is safe for children can be interspersed within the outdoor space and the natural additions of plants and pathways can create natural barriers to define the purpose of these areas.  Check out Benefits of Connecting Children with Nature for some great before and after outdoor spaces designs in childcare settings as well as a detailed explanation to the many benefits of natural environments.

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Bringing the outdoors in to the classroom or center is also essential in early childhood curriculum. Consider the many classroom centers and the possible items from nature that could inspire and challenge children’s exploration.  Classrooms can add sticks and rocks or tree cookies to the building area, or introduce seeds and leaves to the science center.  Could these items be used in the art area? If you have small group experiences, you might explore the seeds inside of a pomegranate or pumpkin.   NAEYC shows how early childhood settings can introduce nature in the classrooms and allow children to take the lead in exploring these materials by Connecting Young Children With Nature .

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Children spend a good majority of their time in childcare, and therefore it is essential that we include natural outdoor learning environments and experiences to enhance their overall growth in development in all domains.

What are you doing in your childcare home or center to Get Back to Nature?

LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATION | THE LEARNING CHILD

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Exploring Nature With Children

Child in nature on grass

Although children should have outdoor time every day, research suggests that on average, American children are only spending 30 minutes of unstructured time outdoors each week. Spending time outdoors is said to lower stress levels, reduce ADHD/ADD symptoms, encourage the opportunity for physical exercise, increase academic performance and levels of concentration, reduce myopia, help children get enough Vitamin D and builds strong immune systems (not to mention a develop a sense of wonder). A good way to plan outdoor space is to identify permanent spaces and temporary spaces.

Exploring Nature in Permanent Spaces

  • What permanent outdoor structures exist in your yard? Do you have a variety of natural elements such as: grass, trees, shrubs, and plants?
  • Offer areas where children can build with nature’s treasures, such as sticks, rocks, leaves, pinecones, and snow.
  • A quiet sitting area such as grass, stumps, large rocks, or a bench is a good place to slow down, relax, read a story, or have a heart-to-heart talk.
  • Don’t forget to create areas for nature and weather observation with a good view of the sky for weather watching.
  • Offer tools such as magnifying glasses, binoculars, paper towel rolls for telescopes, hand shovels, various containers for collections, and bird feeders.
  • For observing the weather, offer materials such as a rain gauge, measuring cups, wind chimes, or streamers (to see which way the wind is blowing), homemade sun dials, and thermometers.
  • Consider having journals, paper, and pencils for kids to record ideas and possibly stumps, decks, or climbers to allow for higher views of observing.

Exploring Nature in Temporary Spaces

  • Create a garden area. Add planter pots with easy-to-grow seeds, plants, shrubs, and vegetables that are safe for young children. If you have the space and time, creating a vegetable garden with children is a great opportunity for them to learn about plants.
  • Provide children with opportunities to care for nature, such as watering plants, feeding animals, picking up trash, and treating “creatures” gently, supports a sense of respecting nature and developing empathy. Experiences such as these help build lifelong skills and give children a connection that may in the future support caring for their environment.
  • For water play, use plastic bins, buckets, funnels, plastic piping, hoses, plastic gutters, spray bottles, paint brushes, sponges, etc. Store all of the water play items inchildren-763791_960_720.jpg a large plastic bin with a lid. Instead of using wading pools which can spread germs, try sprinklers and individual water play containers. Remember, whenever infants and toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be no more than an arm’s length away so they are close enough to provide touch supervision.
  • Children love interesting nooks. You can create fun spaces from tarps or blankets draped over areas, large cardboard boxes, or the undergrowth of a pine tree.
  • Playing in the mud is a great outdoor activity kids love. Set up an area where children, with supervision, can dig in the dirt and add water to make mud. This space should be close to clean-up supplies and away from busy play. Give children clear rules before mud play, such as where the mud may be taken and what toys may be used.
  • Don’t forget to offer an art area! Bring an easel and paints outdoors or set up water colors on a table or sidewalk. Providing a box of art materials give kids an opportunity to express themselves and use nature for collages and sketches.

You can also make outdoor chores fun! Have your children join you in washing the car, cleaning out the garage, feeding the pets, getting the mail, hanging clothes on the line, working in the garden, or any task that calls for them to be involved in the great outdoors.

If you would like to learn more about children and nature, visit the Environmental Education section of UNL Extension’s Learning Child website.

Author:  Leanne Manning, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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