Get Growing With Your Young Children

About this resource
Reviewed: 2019

Spring is a wonderful time to “get growing” with young children. Children are eager to observe the outdoors during the change from winter to spring. Grass changing from brown to green and the buds appearing on the trees sparks children’s curiosity. You may have noticed racks of seeds, soil, and pots around your town. These simple supplies can be the start of a rich learning journey.

Gardening is a wonderful hands-on learning opportunity for young children. Children use their senses and discover the properties of soil, water, and plants. Children feel the textures of soil, seeds, and leaves with their fingers as they work in the garden. Children use their eyes to observe the different shapes and colors of the leaves and flowers. Planting flowers and herbs is a chance to explore the different fragrances of with their noses.

When growing vegetables and herbs, children have a chance to taste the fruits of their garden work. This multisensory experience provides many opportunities to have rich conversations with young children. Adults can talk about how some plants are tall and spindly while others are short and bushy. Some seeds are large or smooth while others are tiny or wrinkly. The hands-on, sensory experience helps children integrate these words into their everyday vocabulary.

Gardening experiences contribute to children’s cognitive development and contribute to early math and science skills. These conversations are also a time to engage children in thinking about how living things grow and develop. Gardening experiences can provoke children’s questions quite naturally. For example, children may wonder how a seed starts to sprout.

Adults can set up simple science experiments to help them understand the process. For example, one seed can be put in a zip-top bag without water. A second seed can be put in a zip-top bag with a damp paper towel. These bags can be taped to a window and children can watch and see the seed with the damp paper towel sprout while the other one does not. Children can observe the difference between the seeds and discover the importance of water to living things. Similar experiments can be done with seeds and sunlight by placing one plant in a dark closet and another by a window. Adults can help children use tools such as tape measures, rulers, and scales to measure the plant growth.

Gardening is a great way to build on this curiosity and allow them to observe the entire lifecycle of a plant. However, adults may feel overwhelmed in planning a gardening opportunity for young children. They may think they need a large outdoor plot or space to do this type of activity. Sometimes, outdoor spaces or permission to dig a garden can be difficult to secure. It helps to find ways to start small.

Remember that young children will learn even from only engaging in part of the process, such as sprouting a seed in cup. Try growing some herbs. Children can then enjoy smelling the different fragrances as they rub the leaves or use them in a cooking project. Draw faces on plastic cups and plant some grass seed. When the grass grows, children can give their planters a “haircut” with safety scissors. A small outdoor patio can be a good place to grow container tomatoes or other plants that can be successfully grown in planters. Start small and, like a seed, the learning from your gardening activities will grow and grow.

Rebecca Swartz
rswartz@illinois.edu

Dr. Rebecca Swartz, an early learning specialist for IEL, completed her doctorate in human development and family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rebecca’s research and outreach work focuses on infant-toddler care, home-based child care, and the social-emotional development of young children. Her goal is to help parents and early educators by providing evidence-based resources on child development and early learning.