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Tip Sheets

IEL Tip Sheet: Get Growing: Planters and Preschoolers About

Have you wondered if gardening outdoors with preschoolers would be too challenging? Growing plants in containers of clean topsoil can be safer and easier for children than gardening in “plain dirt” on the ground. Here are some tips for gardening with children—from teachers who have tried it. (See Illinois Early Learning and Development Benchmarks 1.A.ECa Follow simple one-, two- and three-step directions., 5.C.ECa Participate in group projects or units of study designed to learn about a topic of interest., 12.B.ECa Describe and compare basic needs of living things., 13.A.ECa Begin to understand basic safety practices one must follow when exploring and engaging in science and engineering investigations., 17.A.ECa Locate objects and places in familiar environments., and 30.C.ECd Demonstrate engagement and sustained attention in activities..)

Get some containers to use as planters.

  • Check out the Illinois Cooperative Extension Service Web resource called “Garden in Unbelievable Places.” It can give you and the children ideas about making planters for a garden from used containers such as empty milk jugs, old car tires, worn-out boots, and more!
  • Ask families to donate clean containers to use as planters. Invite children to help put holes in the bottoms of these planters so water will drain out.
  • Take the children outdoors to look around and decide where to place their planters. Talk to them about where they think the plants could get the most sunlight and rain. Ask them to think about which places will be easiest for them to get to when they have to take care of the plants.

Prepare the soil.

  • Buy bags of plain topsoil and put some soil into a bin or wheelbarrow. Let children mix in one scoop of coarse sand and one scoop of peat for each scoop of topsoil. Offer trowels, spades, and large spoons to make mixing easy. Note: Do not add plant foods sold in stores. They may not be safe for children.
  • Provide pails so children can fill each of the planters with the soil they have mixed.
  • Have the children wear garden gloves every time they do garden work, and make sure they wash their hands when they have finished.

Start planting.

  • Find out when the danger of frost will be over. That’s the time to plant the garden!
  • Let children decide what to put in each planter. Let small groups of children take charge of planting and caring for specific containers.
  • If the class has plants that sprouted indoors, help children carefully transplant the seedlings.
  • When children are planting seeds, call their attention to what the seed packets say about what the seeds need in order to grow. For example, which seeds should they place on top of the soil? Which should be covered with soil?

Tend the new garden together.

  • Ask children to make signs for each kind of plant and set the signs in the right planters.
  • Start a watering schedule. Children can take turns watering the plants as needed. They can practice pouring small amounts first, so they don’t drown the plants.
  • Suggest some ways for the children to investigate the garden as it grows!
September 2013


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The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.