Gardening is a mirror of our homeschool journey, both requiring the understanding that small seeds, heaps of faith, attention, and a dose of humor lead to bountiful harvests. Our homeschooling adventure is much like the gardens that surround our family home. They are not always orderly, flawless, or some days even presentable, but they provide us with opportunities to grow and then we reap beautiful harvests.
My mother instilled in me a sense of appreciation that can come only from the opportunity to plant, nurture, and watch a treasure blossom. While I didn’t always want to pull weeds from the bean rows or hoe between the squash plants, I did learn to appreciate the efforts and rewards of gardening.
So much of life is reflected in a garden, and as I began my new journey in life as a mother, I found myself going back to my roots. Those lessons from my mother about sowing seeds, nurturing fragile life, and finding joy in the fragrance and abundance of it all could be said about gardening, as well as mothering and homeschooling.
In 1976 my grandmother wrote a simple note in a book about gardening and gave it to my mother: “To Kathy, who proves you can’t take the country out of the girl, even a generation later.” I received that same book in 2000 from my mother, with my own special note and the gift of a tradition to pass along to my own children one day. The book has wonderful chapter titles, such as “The Healing Hoe” and “The Magic Story of Seeds.”
During the ten plus years I have homeschooled my children, I have gone back to those roots and applied gardening to our core curriculum. As toddlers digging in the dirt at my toes, the kids carried on conversations with bugs, small stones, and the cloud shapes above. Gardening with very young children sometimes just means spending glorious days in the spring sun, sharing secrets with the wind, and turning empty seed packets into treasure maps, garden flags, and sleeping bags for pet rocks. The weeds may still come, but the kids will grow as well when they spend time outside, learning to be stewards of the soil and enjoying the nature that God has provided.
As soon as they were able to walk and dig, the kids wanted their own garden spaces. I have learned over the years, and through many weed-filled rows, that the smaller the child, the smaller the gardening space should be. We found an inexpensive and easy method for the kids to have their own garden spaces and be able to flourish with them. We purchased sixteen recycled shelving boards from a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $4, and the kids, their dad, and a few hours in the garage honing measurement and carpentry skills yielded four bottomless, raised garden beds. Each measures about 3 feet x 3 feet and sits atop the garden topsoil, 15 inches in height.
The carpentry lessons soon turned into science-filled tasks of researching natural fertilizer options and recipes for garden filler. The kids all chose their own special blends, many of which included manure, shredded paper, egg shells, and other compost materials, and of course wonderful dirt.
These raised garden beds provide so many advantages for the kids. The boxes clearly define each personal space and are easier to weed, but more importantly, they generate fewer weeds because the boards create a natural barrier between the mini garden and the volunteer plants that try to creep right along and snuggle in with the produce.
The planting choices of each child articulate so well their personalities that it is like looking into a window to their hearts. My oldest son is extremely conscious of family, and his garden box reflects that. He planted kohlrabi because it is his father’s favorite, onions from the seeds of his grandmother’s plants, and Brussels sprouts because he heard tales of woe and giggles about his aunt detesting them at the dinner table when she was a child.
My daughter, a thoughtful and practical child, planted lettuce for our family, as salad is a regular menu item in our home. The garden box of my middle son has a little bit of a lot of things, much like his coveted storage box under his bed, and he has also decided to donate some of his produce to a local food shelf. Then there is my dear, young, artistic child who sees the world through what must be mesmerizing lenses and therefore planted white pumpkins—simply because they are unexpected.
One of the most rewarding benefits of gardening with children is growing their pallets for healthy food choices. My children have repeatedly tried new foods, only because they were more excited about the growing and harvesting than they were hesitant about the new textures and tastes. The kids are conscious and aware of the varieties of items in the produce aisles and at farmers markets and how they might have been grown, as well as why living in Minnesota does not allow us to produce wonderful mangoes in the backyard.
Four garden boxes have turned into almost a dozen, one of them constructed in secret by my children and presented to me as a gift. Homeschooling and gardening are intertwined in our lives, and the parallels are innumerous. Each homeschool, like each garden, is unique in size and vision. Our homeschools require diligence and energy, and our children reflect the attention we provide in their education and formation. If we don’t put in the time and persevere, rarely will our children grow well without us.
Just as we fertilize our gardens with compost and other materials, we provide our children with the nutrients of faith, love, patience, and the tools with which they can succeed. And like those garden boxes, our homeschools offer our children their own personal space in which to bloom, protected from intrusions, yet allowing their own abilities and passions room to grow.
My homeschooling adventure would simply not be as enriched or rewarding without gardening, whether it is in the fruit and vegetable gardens with my children’s boxes or my flower beds, where the children skip through to admire butterflies and my lesser favorite, snakes. Homeschooling parents, however, do not have to display green thumbs in order to successfully use gardening in their curriculum endeavors. Gardening reflects a basic principle of life through which many wonderful lessons can be taught, even without so much as a fraction of an acre of land. Varieties of books, windowsill gardens in paper cups, and fluid conversations about growth and development can all be cornerstones of garden curricula. We reap what we sow, both in our beds of soil and as we teach our children to grow, flourish, share bounties, and overcome the weeds, and homeschooling allows for the perfect combination of these elements.
I enjoy my own personal holiday when the first seed catalogue arrives in the mail, somehow always just in time to save me from feeling that the frozen Minnesota winter will never cease. On a random day in midwinter, I will savor the pages of color and lose myself in thoughts of warm soil, sun, and the smell that can come only from freshly turned earth. Then I get a homeschool mom chill up my spine and an inspiration for a lesson creeps into my frosty brain. Reading and watching The Secret Garden, studying artists who painted flowers, and collecting building plans for more boxes and perhaps birdhouses are all activities that help open my children’s hearts and minds to the beauties of gardens. The anticipation grows until I do what homeschool moms do: I load the kids into the van and venture to the library (and sometimes the nursery) to begin another chapter in our adventure.
“Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them” (Jeremiah 29:5).
The Secret Garden
This classic story written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Sandra M. Gilbert is a tale of children who discover the joys of friendship, the pain of loss, and the definition of family amid the secret paths and branches of a hidden garden.
Unit Study Ideas for The Secret Garden
Begin by discussing what it means to have and to keep a secret. Age-appropriate discussions might include topics such as the differences between fun secrets for birthday gifts and secrets that might be harmful or dangerous.
Have your children create their own secret gardens. Give each child a pot to fill with soil and an assortment of seed packets from which to choose (out of sight from the other children). Each child can plant the seeds, care for them, and then see if family and friends can guess which types of seeds are growing in their pots by the look of the seedlings emerging. See if their guesses change as the true leaves begin to form and telltale signs of plant types emerge. This is a great lesson for practicing the idea of a hypothesis, with each child recording his own observations and checking to see if his hypotheses are correct.
Use paper cups or small pots and have your children prepare Garden Gifts (the kids can decorate the cups with stickers or markers). Add dirt and choose the seeds of small, yet hardy, flowers to add to the mix. Place plastic wrap over the top of the cup and secure with a rubber band. Have the kids prepare a note explaining that they are sharing the joy of gardening through these Garden Gifts, and all that is needed is to add water, sun, and attention. These make great holiday gifts or special tokens of appreciation.
- After reading the book either independently or as a group, watch the movie and discuss observations about the differences, similarities, and opinions of each version.
Seeds, Plants, and Gardens Booklist
Every great unit study in our home is not complete without a few wonderful books. In fact, reading a good book can be the best way to start a unit study. There are numerous titles from which to choose, but a few of my favorites are included here, some for each age and academic ability range. Whether you read aloud or have independent readers, head out amid the plants and dive into a great book!
Titles for Young Readers and Listeners
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson and Shmuel Thaler
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole (and lots of other versions about Jack and the Beanstalk)
One Watermelon Seed by Celia Barker Lottridge and Karen Patkau
Dig and Sow! How Do Plants Grow? Experiments in the Garden (At Home With Science) by Janice Lobb
Sow and Grow: A Gardening Book for Children by Tina Davis
From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons
A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
A Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds (Exceptional Nonfiction Titles for Primary Grades) by Jean Richards and Anca Hariton
How a Seed Grows (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) by Helene J. Jordan and Loretta Krupinski
Seeds! Seeds! Seeds! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
From Seed to Plant (Rookie Read-About Science) by Allan Fowler
How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas
Oh Say Can You Seed? All About Flowering Plants (Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth and Aristides Ruiz
The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds: A Book About How Living Things Grow by Joanna Cole, John Speirs, and Bruce Degan
The Dandelion Seed by Joseph P. Anthony and Cris Arbo
Berries, Nuts, and Seeds (Take Along Guides) by Diane L. Burns
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
Titles for Older Readers and Listeners
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Sandra M. Gilbert
Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth and Kent Whealy
Seeds: Time Capsules of Life by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy (beautifully detailed images of seeds)
The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, Trees, and Shrubs by Robert E. Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough
Seed catalogues that come through the mail—most are free of charge, have great pictures and descriptions, and can be used for art collages or labeling purposes.
Chris is the mother of four children: Alexandria, Connor, Aidan, and Ethan, and is supported on this homeschooling journey by her husband of more than sixteen years, Steve. She received her degree in Technical Writing and is a freelance editor and writer. Chris can be contacted at email@example.com.
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: April 26, 2013