Montessori Gardening + Planting a Herb Garden with a Preschooler
I love gardening with my children. I aim to make it a relaxing experience where we can connect with each other and connect with nature. With a little bit of preparation gardening with children can fun and also extremely rewarding. Gardening is also a great way to develop practical life skills in a real, meaningful way.
My Montessori gardening tips include:
- Use child-sized tools - a small spade is much easier for the child to hold and manipulate than a heavy and bulk adult's tool. Children can use smaller child-size tools with greater accuracy and less frustration.
- Use real tools - think of what the adult size tool would look and feel like, perhaps wooden handle with the metal fork or spade. Not only will this enhance the experience, but it also validates the child's work and real tools are much less likely to break compared with plastic versions. Good garden tools can last a lifetime. Also, consider the need for a gardening caddy, kneeling pads, a gardening apron and a child-sized wheelbarrow.
- Use child-sized watering cans - yes children love using maximum effort and carrying around heavy buckets of water however when children use these for pouring or watering the water is likely to spill, overflow or flood the area. There are many smaller mini size watering cans that are perfect for children to hold, fill, carry and use with success.
- Allow for exploration - children learn best through hands-on experiences, the gardening experience is optimised if the child is free to explore this includes exploring with soil and water within limits.
- Provide freedom within limits - determine what the limits are around exploration, my children are allowed to dig but not to throw dirt, they can hold bugs but not hurt them, they can pour water but it must be on the ground or on a plant, they can take a leaf to smell or cook but are not allows to destroy a plant (intentionally).
- Observe the child - this can be a great time to observe the child and see what they enjoy (or don't enjoy) what tasks they struggle with, what brings them joy. This can help us prepare gardening activities in the future and perhaps provide other activities to develop skills.
- Set the child up for success - only put out as much potting mix and seeds as you need, make the materials manageable, have water accessible or nearby.
- Involve children with the whole process (when possible) - while I prepare many of the materials beforehand I try to involve my children, in an age-appropriate way, from start to finish. It's a collective decision on what plants to plant, where to plant them, everyone is involved in the cleanup and future care including weeding, maintenance, and most of all harvesting. We could provide children with a choice within a small range, for example, the children could choose from a selection of pre-ordered plants.
- Ensure the activity is age-appropriate - there are times when my then-toddler would follow me around the garden pulling out the seedlings I'd just planted. Perhaps weeding or watering, or planting seeds might have been more age/stage appropriate. Some young children love to dig, so finding them a spot where they can do a lot of digging without damaging an existing garden is more age-appropriate.
- Visit and explore other gardens - it can rewarding to visit special garden exhibitions and exploring botanical gardens.
- Develop community - this can include exploring gardens in the neighbourhood, visiting local community gardens, volunteering at community gardens, visiting city/council run plant nurseries, participating in plant/seed swaps, offering produce and cuttings to friends, family and neighbours - finding ways we can connect to others around us through gardening.
- Consider incorporating numeracy and literacy - gardening can provide real-life applications of mathematics and language, from counting, measuring, timing to writing labels.
My general tips:
- Just plant something - we don't need to be expert gardeners, a child can learn from just one small plant!
- Expose the child to a diverse range of plants for different learning experiences - where space and time permits. Plant seeds inside in pots and outside in the garden - look for plants that are fast growing like radishes, sunflowers often appear in a couple of days. Consider planting bulbs and wait for the surprise when they pop up, plant seedlings - for an instant garden, repot plants that have outgrown their pots, plant flowering plants, vines and climbing plants, herbs, food crops, grow sprouts or microgreens, propagate plants from cuttings, grow food from kitchen scraps - like celery stalks, carrot tops.
- Attempt to grow all year round - in the cooler months we can force bulbs, attend to indoor house plants or grow sprouts.
- Use recycled or terracotta pots - terracotta is real and made from the earth, it is breakable (the child must handle it with care) but is also often affordable.
- Think out of the box regarding resources - can a milk jug be turned into a watering can, can we get cuttings from our neighbours, can we make our own seedling pots from recycled paper, can we use materials that we already have before buying new?
- Be prepared for plant loss - every gardener experiences plants that die or just don't grow, make these learning experiences and also to show our children that things don't always go to plan.
- Consider nature or garden journaling - nature journaling is one of my favourite activities to do with my preschooler, it promotes record keeping, observation and literacy. We can keep a journal just the same with our garden incorporating cuttings, photographs, drawings, rubbings and notations.
Today we are planting a small herb garden. We have herbs in our outside garden but we have a few seedlings that need a new home. Planting a herb garden is a good opportunity to expose the young child to herbs that we can prepare in our kitchen, that have different tastes, textures and that smell wonderful. The small potted herb garden will also give the child ownership over a small part of the garden. But first, we need to paint the pot!
We started with a paintbrush. Both Otto (3 yrs) and Otis (9 yrs) are painting pots for their own herb gardens.
For Otto, this quickly turned into finger painting.
Do your children do this?
Then onto planting.
Lots of transferring work scooping the soil into the pot.
It can be difficult watching a preschooler garden, they can be rough with the plants. I use a few words of guidance but stay hands-off as much as possible.
Children can feel a sense of pride and accomplishment while planting.
Gardening also provides the child the opportunity to care for and nurture something.
This is important work!
Otto uses a small Haws watering can and a gardening apron by Marula Tree.
Looking for more Montessori gardening ideas?
Every child paints a pot.
When in full sun, sunflowers sprout quickly and can be grown inside or outside.
Click through to read some gardening with children tips from Three Minute Montessori.
Montessori Farm School has gorgeous raised garden beds which really look ideal.
Fred Ted and Company have a wonderful Montessori home garden.
Planting pumpkin seeds in a pumpkin!
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