Cultivating a Green Thumb: Why Gardening Should Be Part of Your Homeschool Curriculum
- Kenton Sena TOS Magazine Contributor
- 2013 21 Jun
For as long as I can remember, my mother has had a garden of some type—something like fifteen at last count. My siblings and I have been employed in the upkeep of all of them. As a kid, I rarely had a good attitude about being sent out to weed and mulch, but as it turned out, gardening became one of the most important life experiences of my childhood. Looking back, I can see how that experience has influenced me both as a student and as a person. My exposure to horticulture led me to a growing passion for plant science. I discovered in my teens that I very much enjoyed working with plants, and I decided to focus on plants in my undergraduate and graduate studies. With that in mind, I want to share with you some instruction and encouragement about taking advantage of gardening as a homeschool resource.
Developing Unit Studies
As you begin to think about developing unit studies around garden work, don’t limit your options to basic horticulture and botany—dig a little deeper (pun intended); gardening can lead to the study of a wide variety of disciplines. When you start thinking about planting a garden, the first thing you will need to figure out will be what area of your yard you will use, taking into consideration the kind of sunlight that filters into the area and the quality of the soil, among other things.
Studying soil science, nutrient requirements, climate, and environmental science will be useful at this stage. Consider these questions, for example: What makes certain soil types unsuitable for gardening? What kinds of nutrients are required for plants to thrive? Where do those nutrients come from naturally? What is the best means of replenishing such nutrients, given environmental considerations? How does climate determine plant selection? Also, if you have any kids with an aptitude for design and construction, you could put them in charge of planning and/or building any structures that might prove useful in your new garden—a tool shed, a trellis, an arbor, or a raised bed, for example.
Choosing the Right Spot
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Have no fear, you urbanites—you don’t need acres of land to have a garden. My mother had a garden when we lived on a postage-stamp lot in the inner city. If you have access to any land at all, you can put in a garden—even if that garden is just a few tomato plants alongside the foundation of your house. If the soil is incredibly poor, you can design and build a raised bed and import some good soil. If you don’t have any land at all, you might be able to get involved in a community or church gardening program. And, while it would be ideal to have a full garden in a natural ecosystem, even maintaining a few houseplants or window boxes can give you a springboard to related academic pursuits.
Now that your garden site has been chosen, you will need to decide what kinds of plants you will have in your garden and how you will manage it. This would be a good time to visit the library and check out some books about genetics, entomology, and meteorology, for starters. What factors determine how a plant appears (flower or fruit color, physical size or shape, etc.)? What is a cultivar? What about when insects start to munch on the fruit of your labors? Take some time to identify the particular species present in your garden and research them to figure out whether they are beneficial or harmful. What are some ways that you can control bad insects without harming friendly ones?
You must also take weather patterns into consideration as you plan your work outside—a good opportunity to incorporate a study of meteorology. Keep in mind, especially during this phase of your gardening experience, that mandated physical activity can be a great component of your Physical Education curriculum. Hauling soil, weeds, compost, and mulch in a wheelbarrow encourages physical fitness and productivity—a great package deal.
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Planning for Harvest
As your garden grows and produces fruit, both literally and figuratively, you will need to be prepared with a plan for what to do with it. Preserving food for your family, giving food away to friends and neighbors, and setting up a produce stand at the local farmers’ market are all legitimate options. You also could harvest seeds from your plants for next year’s crop. The harvest phase provides ample opportunity for gaining skills in the areas of culinary arts and food preservation (canning, freezing, etc.), arts and crafts (e.g., with dried flowers), and business (selling produce or flowers). Did you plant flowers instead of veggies? No problem! Harvest flowers from your flower garden and then dye them, dry them, and even sell them as fresh bouquets.
Gardening, like any kind of hard work, can be a great opportunity to develop self-discipline and work ethic in your kids. It may even do more for building character than simple chores, because children have the opportunity to literally reap the fruit of their labors. What does the Bible have to say about work and discipline? What important life lessons can be learned via a family gardening experience? Find out—and have fun!
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Teaching your child to be a good “employee” as a child will help him or her be a good employee as an adult—something that is sorely lacking in our society today. Hard work in the garden prepared me to work hard for my bosses in the “real world,” and caring for plants has even given me insight into caring for people. Adding “gardening” to your homeschool agenda may not inspire all of your students to become horticulturists, but I’m sure their real-life experiences will help them cultivate a green thumb.
Kenton Sena is a graduating biology student at Asbury University in central Kentucky. He plans to enter the graduate program in forestry at the University of Kentucky, earn a master’s degree, eventually earn a doctorate, and finally teach at a small college or university like Asbury. Kenton loves God, people, and, of course, plants.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: June 21, 2013