Projects are the part of the curriculum that involves children in investigating objects and events around them that are worth knowing more about. Project work is a way of uncovering a subject rather than just covering it.
A project focusing on gardens has the potential to involve the entire class, the children’s families, and community members.
A garden project can help children begin to understand the work that goes into producing food, enabling them to see that food doesn’t just “come from the store.” All phases of a project on gardens can offer children opportunities for activities related to the life sciences, social studies, physical development and health, language arts, mathematics, and fine arts.
The topic of gardens could work well as a project for young children who are somewhat familiar with project work, especially if the study will involve creating a garden. If they already have project-related skills (such as sketching and drawing from observation, conducting surveys, interviewing experts, and representing what they have found out), they may be able to spend more time on activities such as planting and tending the garden.
This guide outlines possible steps that teachers might take to engage preschool-age children in projects about gardens. In addition, the guide indicates ways that investigating gardens can address a wide range of Illinois Early Learning Benchmarks (see Appendix A).
This slide show, All about Gardens, incorporates the work of several Illinois photographers and gardeners to show many features of gardens that might be investigated during a garden project. (See Acknowledgments for names of contributors to the slide show.)slideshow
slideshow: All About Gardens
A wide variety of investigation activities are suggested, but all need not be included for the project to be interesting and enriching. Much depends on the program’s location and the time available, as well as the children themselves.
Keep in mind that this Project Guide offers a variety of ideas—not “recipes.” Children’s ideas about what directions a study of gardens might take are likely to emerge as the project progresses. The activities outlined in this guide are just suggestions; many other worthwhile experiences are possible—and often the children themselves come up with related ideas to pursue. At the same time, it is not necessary for every activity suggested in this guide to be included in a project.
Launching the Investigation: The Teacher’s Role
Several steps may be involved for the teacher who would like to help children get started on an investigation of gardens:
- Considering children’s potential interests
- Locating resources for the project
- Looking at gardens before the project begins
- Making the teacher’s topic web
- Planning for documentation throughout the project
These steps are discussed in detail below.
Considering Children’s Potential Interests
It’s a good idea for the teacher to consider what experience the children in his or her class will bring to a project on gardens. Some young children will be familiar with gardens, while others will have little or no experience. Many children will have knowledge of gardens based on books and videos that have been shared with them.
This particular project topic has the potential to engage a class with a wide range of interests. Even children who have never seen a garden may be drawn into some aspect of the project. Some children may especially want to know about the tools and machines used to create and maintain gardens. Others may be interested in the life cycles of plants or the role of plants in producing food. Some may be engaged by the aesthetic aspects of gardens such as the colors and scents of flowers. Still others may be curious about the animal life in a garden—from slugs, worms, ants, and butterflies to birds, rabbits, groundhogs, and (in some parts of the state) deer.
Locating Resources for the Project
Before starting a project on any topic, it is helpful for the teacher to explore available local resources and potential sites where children could safely make direct observations of relevant phenomena, ideally on a regular basis. A key question for the teacher considering a project on gardens is, “Where will we find gardens to study?”
If the school has a garden, or space to create one, much of the children’s fieldwork can be done there. People who live near the school, including parents of children in the class, may have backyard gardens that the children could visit. A local garden club or Master Gardener’s group might be able to put the teacher in touch with people who will let the class visit their gardens. Occasionally, master gardeners are willing to advise or assist a class that wants to make a school garden.
It’s a good idea to keep in mind that storage space can be an important resource during a garden project, if the class is making a garden or growing plants indoors. Tools, bags of topsoil, containers, and seeds or bulbs all should be stored safely, and plants that the children are starting in small containers will need to be close to a light source.
Gardens at local parks can be good sites for fieldwork. A nearby arboretum, conservatory, forest preserve district, community garden, or neighborhood backyard or rooftop garden might also be good places for a site visit. Gardens can sometimes be found on the grounds of retirement facilities, hospitals, or college campuses. Businesses such as hardware stores or home and garden centers are also potential sites for data collection. It’s a good idea to find out if the people who own or work in these places will be open to having young children visit.
Gardeners, botanists, plant pathologists, members of horticulture organizations, entomologists, and other people whose work is related to gardens can be invited to assist the children with the project in a number of ways. Local groups (such as garden clubs or park districts) sometimes produce print materials that children may find useful during a garden project. Businesses in the area may be willing to lend tools to the class or to donate such items as seeds, bulbs, or flower pots.
Perhaps more than with other project topics, the time of year may affect the optimal time to start a project on gardens. Some potential resources will be seasonal, available only at certain times of the year. For example, garden centers may not carry many seeds in the fall, and their displays of gardening tools are likely to be much smaller then than in late winter, when people plan their gardens for the coming spring. Of course, fieldwork can be done in a garden in winter, but much more data can be collected during the growing and harvest seasons.
Looking at Gardens before the Project Begins
The teacher may find it helpful to visit one or two gardens and other fieldwork sites without the children. While there, the teacher can take a few photographs or collect some specimens or artifacts to take back and show the children to provoke some initial conversations about the topic. Tools and equipment, different types of plants, and jobs related to gardens may be of interest to a number of the children.
Making the Teacher’s Topic Web
Teachers usually find it helpful to make a topic web related to the project topic before launching into Phase 1 with the class. This web is sometimes called an “anticipatory planning web.”
The teacher’s topic web is intended to be a reminder of the wide range of possible subtopics that the children can investigate, rather than an outline of lessons or activities. It includes concepts, ideas, information, and vocabulary related to gardens that the teacher believes are worthy of the children learning more about.
For example, a garden project can be rich in math-related activities such as measuring, sorting, counting, and making predictions. Preschoolers may also be able to meet early learning science benchmarks as they find out about garden tools, plant life cycles, the uses of plants, the effects of weather on plants, the cycle of the seasons, animal life that can be found in gardens, and the sights, sounds, textures, and smells of a garden. A garden project also offers opportunities for children to become familiar with jobs involved in creating and maintaining gardens.
The teacher may also wish to note ways for children to express curiosity and take initiative while learning to solve problems cooperatively.
The teacher’s web can also include resources such as potential sites to visit and experts to invite. Once the project is underway, some changes can be made to the initial web, based on what the teacher learns about the children’s interests, understandings, and knowledge of the topic.
Some teachers’ webs include potential ways for families to participate in a project. Family involvement in a garden project might cover a range of activities, such as donating cartons for growing seeds, assisting on site visits, or helping with difficult tasks such as clearing space for a school garden.
Gathering Reference Materials
Before beginning a garden project, the teacher may find it helpful to collect some good-quality reference books, magazines, and other resources about gardens for her own use and to share with the class. A librarian can help with this process. A librarian can also help the teacher locate reliable Web resources on topics such as seasonal changes in gardens or the animal life of gardens. Several Web sites are available related to children and gardens, including one sponsored by the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. Web articles about projects related to gardens are also available. It’s important to keep in mind that Wikipedia may be a source of basic information, but it is notoriously inaccurate. (It is not a secure site, and users are sometimes able to insert misinformation.)
Nonfiction picture books to read aloud are likely to be useful throughout Phase 1 and Phase 2. Slides or videos about gardens, gardening, or about specific plants can also enrich the class discussion during the first two phases of the project.
Planning for Documentation throughout the Project
It’s a good idea for the teacher to decide before the investigation begins how to document the project work during each phase. The overall documentation of the project should “tell the story” of the project, so the teacher may want to set aside enough wall space for a display showing how the children’s work progressed.
Many aspects of documentation during a project on gardens will be similar to documentation for any other project. For example, children may record information about gardens through drawing, writing, note taking, photography, and discussion, representing their data in a variety of ways to share with others. As with any other project, the teacher can also plan for his or her own documentation of the children’s work via note taking, photography, or videography.
However, documentation during a study of gardens may present challenges that some other projects do not. For example, children may be studying plants that they are growing indoors, which will require more storage space than may be needed for some other types of projects. It’s a good idea for the teacher to decide ahead of time where children can keep the plants.
Phase 1: Getting Started
It’s a good idea for the teacher to make sure that the children all know what gardens are before proceeding with any other activities during Phase 1. Sharing a few photographs of gardens, a picture book about gardens, or some pages from a gardening magazine will help to provide the class with a common understanding of the topic. The teacher can then help the children begin their study of gardens in several ways:
- Ask them to collect some initial data outside of school.
- Invite them to share their recollections of prior experiences related to gardens.
- Tour nearby gardens with the class or with small groups.
- Create a topic web with the children.
- Help the children form subtopic groups.
- Involve families in the initial phase of the project.
Collecting Data Outside of School
One way to start the investigation of gardens is for the teacher to have children find out about gardens that they see near where they live:
- Provide each child with paper, a clipboard, and black markers or pencils to take with them for an evening or over a weekend.
- Include a note to each family, asking the parents or caregivers to help the child find a garden nearby—in the backyard, down the street, on top of a building. If no garden is available, perhaps they can find a potted plant or some plants in a window box for the child to study.
- Suggest to the children: “When you are with your family, ask them to help you find a place where somebody is growing plants. It could be a garden or even just one plant in a pot. Take a look, and sketch what you see there. (For ways to help children get started with sketching and drawing, see “Helping Children Sketch and Draw from Observation”.)
- When the children return, invite them to share their drawings with their classmates. This sharing can be done in pairs or small groups, or the children can share with the whole class. It often helps for the teacher to ask children before the class meeting what they want to tell the group so that they can rehearse what they want to say.
- Give children opportunities to compare their drawings. (Which drawings were made in outdoor gardens? What was growing in the various gardens?)
Recalling Prior Experiences Related to Gardens
As the children talk about their drawings of gardens, it is likely that some of them will recall and bring up related personal experiences. Seeing Will’s sketch of a potato plant may remind M’Kayla that her grandmother grows potatoes in a barrel. Hearing about growing potatoes may encourage Arnav to tell about the time that he went to a greenhouse.
To further support children’s conversations about the topic, the teacher might recount a personal experience with gardens. Reading aloud from a related storybook can also spark children’s interest in telling about their experiences. The teacher can invite the children to talk about their memories of gardens, preferably over a period of several days. Continuing to encourage memory sharing may help children who are slow to recall their experiences, as well as those who may be reluctant to speak.
Letting children draw or paint something that they recall about gardens is another way that they can share their memories. The teacher can write the children’s dictated words on their work. Memory stories and drawings can give teachers a sense of what sorts of experiences that children have had, as well as what misconceptions that they may hold and what subtopics may interest them.
Posing Provocative Questions
During Phase 1, asking provocative or probing questions can help children to think about gardens in new ways. Such questions might include “What are gardens for?” or “Why do you suppose people have gardens?” or “What do you think people grow in gardens?” More specific questions might also provoke children’s thinking and problem solving, such as, “Do you think that anybody in our neighborhood has an indoor garden?” A good follow-up question might be, “What could we do to find out?”
The teacher may find that some of the children want to do some gardening. In that case, he or she might pose questions such as, “What if we could make a garden here—what would you like to grow?” The teacher might then ask, “What makes you think that (the suggested item) would be good for a garden?” After listing the children’s responses, the teacher might then follow up by saying something like, “What are some places at school that we could grow the things you suggested?”
Making Preliminary Observations of Gardens with Children
The next step might be for the children to take a walk where they can closely observe a garden. If enough adults are available, the class can take garden walks in small groups. If the availability of adults is a problem, it often helps if the teacher is able to take only three or four of the children at a time. Each child can take a clipboard, a pencil, and some drawing paper for making observational sketches. The group can stop occasionally to talk about what they observe. They should have time to sketch what they see in the garden, take pictures, measure the height of the plants or the length of garden tools, and so forth.
It’s a good idea for the teacher to keep a record of what children pay attention to, talk about, and wonder about during the initial visit to the garden. This information can help the teacher facilitate discussions among the children later. It can also be useful during the children’s webbing process and when they are working with the question table (see below).
Upon their return to the class, children can report to the class about what they saw in the garden and what they included in their photos and drawings. The teacher can encourage members of different groups to compare what they have observed and to ask each other questions about what they encountered.
Creating a Topic Web with the Children
As with any project, creating a topic web with the children is an important part of starting a project on gardens. It’s a good idea to start the web after the children have shared several experiences, such as making memory drawings, hearing or telling stories related to the topic, or examining some relevant specimens or artifacts. Typically, the children’s topic web is created during group time.
The teacher can start the topic web discussion by asking the children some questions focusing on gardens:
- What are some things they already know about gardens?
- What would they like to find out about gardens?
- Who do they think they could talk to about gardens?
- What are some places that they might visit to help them find out more about gardens?
What the children say during this conversation can become part of their topic web. As the children say what they know, what they think, or what they wonder about, the teacher can write the words directly on the topic web paper or on sticky notes.
The teacher can also use the notes taken when the class first observed the garden to remind children of what they noticed or wondered about.
Many teachers find that making a web is likely to take more than one group meeting, depending on the children’s ages and their level of experience with the process. Children can also help the teacher organize their initial questions, comments, and ideas into categories. For example, if comments related to flowers were generated during the conversation, those could be grouped separately from the children’s questions about animals that live in gardens.
For more information about the children’s topic web, see the following resources:
- Topic Webs in Project Work: Part 1—Creating the Children’s Web
- Topic Webs in Project Work: Part 2—Organizing the Children’s Web
Helping Children Ask Questions and Make Predictions
In addition to the children’s topic web related to gardens, the teacher may want to generate a question table based on the questions that the children ask. Some teachers post a large hand-printed question table on a classroom wall. Others prefer to create the question table as a computer file (Table 1).
|What would you like to find out? (Question)||What do you think the answer might be? (Prediction)||What did you find out?|
|What can people grow in gardens?||Flowers and green plants.|
|Can you have a garden inside the house?||No. Because the plants have to be in the ground.
Yes, you could dig up your floor and plant flowers.
|What kinds of creatures might be in a garden?||Rabbits and squirrels.
For more information about making and using a question table, see Lilian Katz’s blog entry titled “The Question Table”.
The question table is likely to be useful during all phases of the project. New questions usually arise while children are involved in fieldwork. Teachers can encourage children to ask questions during any phase of the project in a variety of ways:
- Ask the children what they want visiting experts to show them and talk with them about. For example, the teacher might ask, “When the master gardener comes, what would you like for her to show us?” “What are some things that you want the plant doctor to talk about?”
- Help children restate “wonderings” as questions. For example, if a child says, “I don’t know if it takes a long time to get red strawberries,” the teacher might say, “So do you want to ask the gardener ‘How long does it take to get red strawberries?’?”
- Encourage children to ask questions or make comments when their classmates report findings from fieldwork.
- Write new questions on the question table as the children dictate them.
- Suggest other ways that the children might express their questions (for example, drawing a picture of something that they are curious about).
(See “The Project Approach: Helping Children Ask Questions” for more suggestions.)
Predicting possible answers and sources of information is another important aspect of project work that can begin during Phase 1 and continue throughout the project. The teacher might occasionally ask a child, or the whole class, “What do you think the answer to your question might be?” or “What do you think the guest expert will answer when you ask him that?”
The teacher can also encourage children to make predictions about other things:
- Which books or other resources might have answers to a specific question?
- What changes do they think might occur in the garden they are studying in the coming days or weeks? (For example, “Do you think the strawberries will turn red at the same time that the corn gets ripe?” “Do you think rain will fall on the garden today?”)
- What might happen during specific “experiments” that they design? (For example, “Will this seed grow roots if we leave it at the bottom of a glass of water?” “What do you think will grow from this bulb that Jack’s dad gave us?”)
Some teachers engage the entire class in making predictions by posing a simple two-option question on a sign-in sheet designed like a survey form. Questions can focus on a site visit or on an experiment in progress: “Do you think that we will see ants at the Arboretum today?” “Do you think that the squash plant will have more than 2 blossoms on it today?”
Forming Subtopic Groups
Several of the children may show interest in the same question related to gardens. They can become part of a subtopic group that will try to find answers to the question.
The teacher can work with each group to help them decide what they might try to get answers to their questions. For example, the subtopic group that is interested in the question “What animals might be in the garden?” will benefit from particular references, experts, and site visits, while those who want to find out how to grow corn will probably need to use different resources.
Involving Families during Phase 1
As the project begins, the teacher can send a note to families letting them know that the class will be investigating local gardens. The note can also mention what the children have said and done about gardens so far. The teacher may also want to use the note to request help from family members. Do any of them have gardens, either indoors or outdoors? Are their jobs or hobbies related to gardening? Do they have interesting experiences with gardens to tell the class?
As mentioned previously, it is a good idea to ask parents if their children have allergies that might affect their being outdoors or studying things in a garden. The teacher may also suggest that from time to time parents informally ask their children to talk about what they have found out recently about gardens.
The teacher might also invite family members to help their children recall experiences with gardens. Another way to involve families is to suggest that children take their clipboards, paper, and pencils home to make sketches in gardens or in home and garden centers near where they live. Children can also invite family members to make drawings, which they can bring back to class to share.
Help from families will be very important if the class will be making a garden. The teacher may want to create a list of garden-related tasks to send home to families.
Phase 2: Fieldwork
The children’s fieldwork on gardens can begin after their topic web has been completed and they have selected the subtopic groups that they want to participate in. Depending on their subtopic groups and the questions that the children want to answer, their fieldwork may include a range of activities:
- Making site visits to gardens, local nurseries, and related places
- Gathering data related to gardens during site visits, interactions with visiting experts, and other experiences
- Talking with visiting experts about gardens and gardening
- Creating collections of garden-related artifacts and specimens
- Planning and participating in activities related to gardening that may address benchmarks in science, language arts and literacy, math, social studies, fine arts, and physical development and health
- Subtopic groups reporting to classmates about what they have learned
These activities are discussed in detail below. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that these are only suggestions. The children’s ages and interests—as well as the teacher’s experience with project work—are factors to consider when thinking about which activities might be most helpful and engaging to the class.
Making Site Visits
If the school has a garden, or if it is possible for the class to have an indoor garden, the children may be able to conduct their investigations without leaving the school grounds. Walking trips to gardens in parks, backyards, or on windowsills or rooftops can also provide valuable opportunities to study a variety of gardens.
If the class is permitted to visit sites away from school via bus or car—such as a home and garden center, an arboretum, or a greenhouse—such trips can also be worthwhile.
The teacher might keep in mind that site visits should be made by subtopic groups as much as possible. When children in a subtopic group have decided what their questions are, the teacher can help them to decide where they might go to find the answers: A park? An arboretum? A home and garden center? They can also discuss who might be able to answer their questions during the site visit.
Occasionally, a whole-class visit to a site (a large botanical garden, for example) can be useful, particularly if each child or small group of children has specific data to collect.
It’s a good idea to arrange multiple visits to some sites if possible. For example, children might visit a garden in small groups two or three times a week, in different types of weather (calm sunny, windy, foggy, etc.). Visiting more than once over a period of several weeks can help children to observe seasonal changes. Making more than one visit to a home and garden center or greenhouse can be helpful to small groups studying those locations, as well; the first visit to a large place may be overwhelming. On later visits, they may be better able to focus on details that they missed while still trying to “get their bearings.” Making multiple visits provides a chance to observe the effects of weather on a garden: “What happened to the plants during this morning’s hailstorm (or last night’s frost)?” Children will also have more opportunity to look for evidence that animals use or depend on plants in the garden over time: Has something made new holes in the lettuce leaves that they observed earlier? Do they notice animal tracks that were not there on their first visit?
When preparing for outdoor site visits, it is a good idea to remind the class of the usual safety procedures for outdoor activities (for example, use sun protection, stay on the path, dress warmly in winter). It is a good idea also to remind children to ask permission before they touch things or collect artifacts during any visit and not to litter.
During the site visit, children can use the data-gathering techniques described in the section “Gathering Data Related to Gardens” below, such as making observational sketches, taking notes, and collecting artifacts (with permission). They may also have opportunities to ask questions of people who work or live there. (See “Interacting with Visiting Experts” below.)
Gathering Data Related to Gardens
One of the teacher’s key roles during Phase 2 of a project on gardens is to facilitate children’s close observations of things to be found in gardens and at related sites. Here are some things that the teacher might do to encourage data collection:
- Provide children with clipboards, paper and pencils, and a camera if available.
- Offer collection bags, magnifiers, and binoculars.
- Give the children time to sketch and photograph the places or objects related to their subtopics. For example, one group might want to sketch the same part of a garden every few days, or take photographs of the whole garden to record major changes that occur.
- Encourage the children to…
- notice scents and odors on or near specific plants;
- notice colors, shapes, and textures of the various parts of plants or gardening equipment and materials;
- listen to sounds they hear in the garden, the home and garden center, or other site;
- collect seeds, leaves, or other parts that may have fallen from plants.
With older preschoolers or those who are more experienced with project work, the teacher might suggest some additional types of data collection:
- Look for and sketch or photograph insects, birds, or other animals in or near the garden.
- Sketch the layout of the garden, greenhouse, or store.
- Measure various dimensions of plants and other garden items with a tape measure, ruler, or with Unifix cubes or other nonstandard measuring tools.
- Keep tallies and make notes on paper.
Interacting with Visiting Experts
The teacher can help the children generate a list of potential guest experts to provide information about gardens and gardening. The list might include the following people:
- People with home gardens
- Landscape architects, designers, or contractors
- People who set up community garden projects
- Master gardeners
- Biologists (including animal biologists)
- Plant pathologists (“plant doctors”)
- Home and garden center employees
- Health care personnel who can talk with the children about safety in the garden
- Artists and musicians whose work includes images of gardens
- People who make natural dyes from garden plants
- People who do worm composting
The teacher may take on several roles in having experts talk with the class, depending on the children’s ages, interests, and experience:
- Arrange the visits, perhaps with a few of the children helping to make an invitation or dictate an email message.
- Find out if the specialist is willing to write back and forth to the children via email.
- Suggest that children draw or dictate their questions for the expert prior to the visit.
- Help them rehearse their questions to make the best use of the expert’s time with the class.
- Provide the guest with the children’s questions prior to the visit. (Many visiting experts like to know ahead of time what the children want to ask them.)
- Help the children follow up with thank-you notes after the guest’s visit.
Creating Collections of Artifacts and Specimens
Helping the class build and maintain a collection of specimens and artifacts related to gardens and gardening can be another important role for the teacher during Phase 2 of the project. The teacher might choose to help in some of the following ways, depending on available resources and the ages, interests, and experiences of the children.
- Help the children grow plants indoors to create a living collection. For example, radishes, beans, corn, squash, marigolds, and many prairie plants are relatively easy to start from seed in a window garden. (Directions for starting plants indoors in a variety of containers and growing media can be found on the Web. )
- Invite families to add to the classroom collection of garden-related items: hand tools, flowerpots, gardening hats and gloves, soil samples, etc.
- Ask owners of local shops, etc., to lend the class some garden-related items.
- Set aside a specific part of the room for the collection to be kept.
- Provide many opportunities for children to explore the collection. (See “Looking Inside the Collection” below.)
Note: Commercially packaged seeds and bulbs may be treated with chemicals that children should not handle. To avoid contact with these chemicals, it’s best to use food-grade seeds or seeds and bulbs taken directly from plants for the class collection. Keep in mind that some children are allergic to nuts, peanuts, or soybeans.
During a project on gardens, the class may be interested in collecting a few of the following specimens and artifacts:
- seeds from prairie flowers and grasses; cultivated plants like corn, squash, and marigolds
- preserved vegetation from a garden (whole plants or parts such as leaves or flowers)
- living plants grown indoors from seeds, seedlings, bulbs, or corms
- advertisements from home and garden centers
- gardening catalogs
- seed packets
- construction materials such as rocks, paving bricks, pond liners, or sections of edging
- samples of soil, mulch, compost, etc.
- hardware, tools, and other items (without sharp edges) that are used to create and maintain gardens
- magazine pages or other illustrations of gardens
- other items from site visits and visits with experts
As children and family members add to the collection, the teacher can help them label each item with its name, the date it was collected, where it was collected, and the name of the person who provided it. Children may be interested to know that the term for such documentation of artifacts is “provenance.”
Incorporating Science Activities
As children learn more about gardens during Phase 2, they may have questions that can best be answered through scientific explorations or experiments that they plan collaboratively or individually. Such activities may include finding answers to questions about items in the collection and examining them closely; growing plants; designing, making, and testing garden tools and equipment; and setting up experiments.
Looking Inside the Collection: Children can learn much by examining items in the class collection. Teachers might encourage such activities in several ways:
- Call attention to new items that are added to the collection.
- Offer magnifiers so children can examine the collected items closely.
- Ask them to describe what they notice: textures, smells, colors, sounds, etc.
- Invite them to sketch what they observe. Drawing close-up or magnified views can be an interesting challenge for some children.
- Offer opportunities to take apart and reassemble garden equipment, providing tools and supervision as needed.
- Ask provocative questions: “What do you think is inside the hose?” From time to time, the teacher might follow up by asking “What makes you think so?” when children propose a possible answer.
- Help children look at and compare the insides of fruits, seeds, plant galls, or other parts of a variety of garden plants. An adult must supervise closely if the children are to cut these items themselves.
The teacher might anticipate that older preschoolers or those who have more experience with project work may want to use the collections in additional ways:
- Weigh and measure items in the collection using balance scales, spring scales, rulers, tape measures, or nonstandard measurements.
- Add their sketches and photographs of items in the collection to a display or book that tells the story of the project.
- Compare how quickly various types of plants in the “living collection” sprout, grow to 1 foot in height, etc.
Designing, Making, and Testing Garden Tools and Equipment: Some children may want to design their own garden tools, machines, and equipment in response to questions such as “How could a gardener get water to the garden without carrying a bucket?” or “What could a gardener do to keep rabbits from eating all of the plants?” As they do so, they will have opportunities to learn the principles of design and engineering used by adults who create the tools and equipment that gardeners use.
The teacher might help in some of the following ways, depending on available resources and the ages, interests, and experiences of the children:
- Provide paper so children can draw their initial plans.
- Ask them about the purpose of the objects that they want to design: “What made you decide to make a garden stool with a pillow on it?”
- Offer a wide range of construction materials for the children to choose from—cardboard or plastic tubes, lengths of gutter, pieces of wood (untreated), wire, plastic interlocking blocks, drinking straws, paper clips, “boxes and junk,” pieces of fabric, old clothing (for making a scarecrow), commercial construction sets (for example, Legos, Construx, or Tinkertoys), a variety of fasteners.
- Talk with them about the materials and tools that they will need.
- Invite parents or other volunteers to assist the children with tasks such as digging, drilling, or nailing.
- Talk with the children to find out how they are dealing with such problems as balance, symmetry, and the sturdiness of materials. (“You said you can’t get the scarecrow to stand up by itself. What have you tried so far?”)
- Suggest that the children ask each other for help solving design problems. (“Your scarecrow still falls over. You could talk to Cedric about the problem. He helped Maricel’s birdbath stand up.”)
Setting up Experiments: As the project proceeds, a number of questions may arise that children can address through experiments that they plan individually or with the help of classmates or the teacher. The questions may vary widely, depending on the children’s ages, interests, and experience with gardens. The following are a few examples of garden-related questions from children that might be investigated by experimenting:
- How many days does it take beans (or some other plants) to sprout?
- Will corn (or some other plant) grow without sunlight?
- What kind of plants might grow from these seeds or bulbs that we can’t identify?
- Will plants really grow well in raised beds or an old boot?
- Which holds the most seeds—a pea pod, a tomato, a strawberry, a pumpkin?
- Does mulch soak up water?
- Can worms really eat garbage?
- Do plants really grow better when we fertilize them with compost?
- What happens to specific garden plants when they freeze?
For an example of how one teacher facilitated children’s explorations and experiments, see “Magnets and Cars”.
The teacher can help the class find definitions of basic “garden” words: Worm, Aphid, Beetle, Slug, Germinate, Blossom, Pollinate, Ripen, Season, Vine, Corn, Bean, Squash, Gourd, Cultivate, Irrigate, Pathway, Planter, Edging, Trellis, Toad house, Birdbath, Clay, Sand, Frost, Water, Drought, Fertilize, Compost, Stone, Mulch, Row, Rake, Hoe, Shovel, Spade, Trowel, Wheelbarrow, Hose, Scarecrow, Pest, Wilt, Rot, Ant, Rock garden, Rooftop garden, Rain garden, Vegetable garden, Flower garden, Bed, Raised bed, Hoop house, Vertical garden, Seed, Leaf, Stem, Root, Plant, Bulb, Corm, Gall, Tuber, Pod, Fruit, Vegetable, Soil
Incorporating Language Arts and Literacy Activities
Introducing New Vocabulary: Learning vocabulary related to gardens will be important to children’s growing knowledge during the project. The children’s ages and levels of experience may influence what words and concepts they learn and use. Subtopic groups may also learn some specialized vocabulary. For example, a group that investigates “How Plants Grow” may need to know such terms as “germinate,” “sprout,” and “seedling.”
As children begin to use and understand the new vocabulary, the teacher might facilitate class discussion about some of the words. For example, he or she might pose provocative questions such as, “How can you tell if a bean is a seed?” Or if some children seem confused about a term, the teacher might suggest, “Let’s look it up in this garden encyclopedia.”
Writing in the Context of the Project: A variety of writing activities may be relevant and useful during Phase 2 of a garden project. Teachers can choose from a variety of ways of encouraging children’s dictations or writing during the project, depending on the children’s interests and levels of experience:
- Help children label the parts of their field sketches and drawings.
- Invite them to make lists together of what they observe during site visits. With the teacher’s help, the different subtopic groups can compare what they have observed. (“The community garden group and the greenhouse group reported that they saw compost barrels on their site visits. The indoor garden group did not.”)
- Ask a small group of children to dictate or write the “story” of what occurred during a site visit or what happened in a garden over a period of time. The story can be displayed on a bulletin board or class book about the project.
- Let children help create thank-you notes to guest experts, the librarian, parent helpers, and others who assist with the project.
- Invite older preschoolers to explain complex concepts and relationships between objects as the teacher writes their words. For example, if a child says, “The garden is a kitchen for insects,” the teacher might ask her to explain what she means.
Sharing Books and Other Reference Materials: The teacher’s tasks during the project include selecting and sharing high-quality resources. Many books and Web sites are available about children and gardening. A librarian can help locate good informational picture books, magazines, Web sites, and other resources about gardens to share with children.
Incorporating Math Activities
As the fieldwork progresses, the teacher might want to suggest a wide range of math-related activities that may help children answer questions and express new understandings, depending on their ages and levels of experience:
- Count and keep tallies of the numbers of flowers, petals, leaves, or fruits on a variety of garden plants.
- Use a balance scale to compare the sizes and weights of various garden tools, equipment, rocks, or parts of various garden plants.
- Find answers to such questions as, “How many cups of water does the watering can hold?” “Which is heavier—a planter full of topsoil or a planter full of mulch?”
- Help make a schedule for watering and feeding plants that the class is growing.
- Sort and categorize gardening tools, seeds, or other collected artifacts.
- Select photos or sketches that illustrate comparisons among things in a garden (for example, various kinds of planters or flower beds; the tallest plant and the shortest plant).
- Measure and record plant growth regularly, predicting what the seeds or sprouts will look like the next time the children observe.
- Conduct surveys of classmates and family members, asking questions related to gardens. Children can tally and report their results.
The teacher might anticipate that preschoolers who are older or who have more experience with project work may express interest in other math activities during the garden project:
- Set a rain gauge outdoors and check it as needed, keeping a chart of rainfall amounts.
- Make charts or graphs of findings to show comparisons among various garden plants—the colors of their flowers, the relative size of their leaves, the height of the stems, etc.
- Chart the length of a garden plant’s life (in days) from germination to the time it dies in a hard freeze.
- Develop a “time line,” storyboard, or set of cards showing the life cycle of a plant or the sequence of steps for planting a seed or seedling.
- Investigate symmetry in garden plants and in the tools and equipment used in gardens.
- Compare the costs of specific seed packets, using a catalog, the Internet, or other resources.
Incorporating Social Studies Activities
During Phase 2, children can collect and represent data from a number of social-studies-related activities. Their participation in these activities may vary, depending on their ages, interests, and prior experiences:
- List the different uses people have for gardens (to produce food to eat at home, to have flowers to sell, to attract birds, etc.).
- Look at resources that show a variety of gardens around the community or the world. Compare what is being grown, the overall appearance of the gardens, etc.
- Ask family members who have lived or traveled outside the United States to share photographs of gardens from the places they have been.
- Collect printed maps of gardens or parks the class visits, if available.
- Make a map of a garden or related site the class has visited.
- Make decisions as a group (by voting or consensus) about such choices as what kinds of plants to grow or what kind of planter to use.
- Display photographs, sketches, and magazine cutouts of people whose work is related to gardens or of people working in gardens.
- Develop surveys and interview questions to investigate other peoples’ perspectives on gardens:
- What sorts of things do people have in their gardens (plants, fences, decorations, animals, etc.)?
- How do people decide what kinds of gardens they want to have?
- How do people decide how much money a shovel should cost, or a packet of seeds, etc.?
Incorporating Fine Arts Activities
The visual arts, creative movement, drama, and music can offer children a variety of perspectives on what they find out related to gardens. During Phase 2, it’s a good idea to focus on realistic representations and interpretations of data—the more imaginative or impressionistic interpretations may be more appropriate for Phase 3. Here are some possible approaches to bringing the fine arts into Phase 2 of a garden project, depending on available resources and the children’s ages and interests:
- Show the class photographs of well-known gardens such as those at Allerton Park near Monticello, the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Grant Park, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, or Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri.
- Share other artwork (paintings, sculpture, etc.) that realistically depicts gardens and things to be found in them.
- Invite children to talk about aesthetic elements in various gardens: What do they find “beautiful” or appealing in a particular garden?
- Share CDs that feature classical, folk, or popular music related to gardens.
- Offer crayons or chalk and paper so children can make rubbings or tracings of leaves, stems, garden tools, and other small items related to gardens.
- Talk with the children about sounds that they have heard in gardens (for example, bees buzzing, birds calling, leaves and flowers rustling in the wind, etc.). Invite them to try to duplicate those sounds with their voices, found objects, or musical instruments.
Incorporating Physical Development and Health Activities
Questions related to physical development and health may arise as the children investigate gardens. The teacher can help to facilitate discussion of these topics:
- Find an expert who would be willing to answer children’s questions about health and safety concerns related to gardens: Why do some plants make a person itchy? Why do people wear gloves to do garden work? What should a gardener do about bees, wasps, or spiders?
- Talk with the class about safe use of garden tools.
- Help children notice safety messages such as signs that say “Keep Out” or that have the “poison” symbol.
- Invite interested children to make posters about garden safety.
The teacher might use a variety of approaches to helping the class focus on how a human body moves while doing garden work. The teacher can decide which of these might be most engaging to the class, taking into account available resources and the ages, interests, and experiences of the children:
- Ask questions such as, “What parts of your body do you use in order to plant a seed in a pot? Dig a hole? Make a newspaper pot? Carry a bucket of water?”
- Invite children to take turns engaging in these activities so that classmates can observe the work that their arms, legs, etc., do during each process.
- Provide an artist’s jointed wooden figure model for children who want to sketch what the human body does during garden work: What body parts bend when a person pulls weeds? In what direction do they bend? What parts do not bend?
- Suggest that children find ways that they might move their bodies to represent workers, plants, and other things that they observe in gardens.
Debriefing after Fieldwork
It’s a good idea to make time for subtopic groups to report to the class regularly about what they have found during fieldwork. The teacher might facilitate these discussions in several ways, depending on the children’s ages and levels of experience:
- Have the small groups briefly rehearse what they want to say before they report.
- Refer children to the question table: Does a subtopic group’s report include some answers to earlier questions?
- Give a shy or reluctant child a chance to talk about what he or she has observed.
- Encourage children to talk to each other about their ideas, findings, and questions. (“Some of you wondered what slugs look like. Amul and Noel, you saw some slugs. Would you please describe what they were like?”)
- Help the children “tune in” to differences and similarities among gardens, plants, garden equipment, etc., that they have observed during fieldwork. (“Danica says she noticed that the trowel in Elgin’s sketch comes to a point and so does the spade in Shane’s sketch. She’s wondering why people make spades and trowels with points. What do you think?”)
Involving Families in the Garden Project during Phase 2
Multiple opportunities for family involvement are likely to arise during Phase 2 of a garden project. Teachers can use their newsletters or special invitations to engage families in a variety of activities:
- Create some homework to encourage families to find out together about gardens in the community. For example, children and parents could walk around a large park or the neighborhood, keeping a tally of how many gardens they see.
- Invite family members to help out with site visits or to supervise and assist children who are doing experiments.
- Ask family members who garden or who work in home and garden centers to serve as guest experts.
- Ask families to send in clean used items for children to use during the project (for example, plastic containers to use as planters or newspapers to make into newspaper pots for sprouting seeds).
- Invite family members to read the garden project documentation that is displayed in the classroom.
- Have children ask their family members survey questions related to gardens (for example, “Did you ever grow a garden?” or “Do you eat sweet corn?”). For more ideas about surveys in project work, see “The Project Approach: Children Taking Surveys” and “Helping Children Take Surveys”.
Phase 3: Bringing the Project to a Close
A project about gardens might last from 3 weeks to several months, depending on the resources and time available and the extent of the children’s interest. A teacher can often tell when any project is about to “run out of steam”; however, at times, the school year may come to an end before the children feel the project is over! In that case, the teacher may need to gently urge the class toward completing their work and planning culminating activities.
The teacher can help the children bring the project to a close by revisiting the question table with them, facilitating their use of their new knowledge in their play, assisting with plans for displaying their documentation, working with them on plans for a culminating event, and inviting families to participate.
Revisiting the Question Table
As the study of gardens begins to wind down, the teacher can look at the question table with the class or with individual children:
- Which questions have been answered?
- How did their predictions compare to their findings?
- Which questions are still unaddressed, and what might be done to find answers? Are there some misunderstandings about some topics?
- What might be done to address their misconceptions?
Depending on the ages of the children and the resources available, they may want to contact some of their guest experts or consult books and other references to answer remaining questions or to clarify what they have misunderstood.
|What would you like to find out? (Questions)||What do you think the answers might be? (Predictions)||What did you find out?|
|What do people grow in gardens?||Flowers and green plants||Many kinds of flowers.
Corn, squash, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries, and radishes.
People can’t grow cookies in a garden, or money.
|Can you have a garden inside the house?||No. Because the plants have to be in the ground.
Yes, you could dig up your floor and plant flowers.
|Yes, if they have soil for the roots and enough light and water.|
|What kinds of creatures might be in a garden?||Rabbits and squirrels.
|Rabbits, squirrels, deer, woodchucks, ants, worms, butterflies, potato bugs, bees, earwigs, birds, and slugs are some animals you would find in gardens.
No lions. Except maybe a lion sculpture.
Table 2. At the close of the project, the question table shows the children’s findings.
Children’s spontaneous play may reflect their new understandings of gardens throughout the project, but especially during Phase 3 when they can apply their knowledge about such things as caring for gardens and operating a home and garden center. Teachers can take any of several approaches to fostering such play, depending on the children’s ages and interests:
- Offer a variety of blocks, construction toys, and other materials so that children can construct gardens or a garden shop during pretend play.
- Provide materials for children to make models of things found in a garden or garden shop to use in dramatic play.
- Share songs and fingerplays related to gardens (for example, “Inch by Inch,” “Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow,” “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,” and “Here is the Beehive”).
- Teach games that are related to what children are learning about gardens, such as “Ring around the Rosie,” “Garden Party” (an older board game that might be adapted for preschoolers to play with adult help), or “Groovy Garden” (a computer game on the PBSKids Web site, which may require some adult help.
- Encourage children (especially older preschoolers) to create their own active games, guessing games, or board games based on what they have learned about gardening.
Planning for Final Displays of Documentation
When the children’s questions about gardens have been addressed, the teacher can suggest that it is time for the class to plan how they will display the findings from their project. The teacher might help with this process in a variety of ways:
- Ask the study groups, “How do you want to tell others what you found out?” Help them record and refer back to their ideas.
- Encourage children to plan displays that tell the story of their work—their questions, the data they collected, and what they were able to find out about gardens.
- Help the various study groups select drawings, photographs, 3-dimensional models, and other items they have made for display—as well as live specimens of garden plants or of other living things they have found in gardens (such as insects or worms).
- Let the children write or dictate captions for their work.
- Ask them to label and display specimens and artifacts that they collected, such as tools, live plants, preserved plants, maps, or seed catalogs.
Planning a Culminating Activity
The subtopic groups should meet to decide what they want to do to share with others their new knowledge and skills. A key decision is how best to express and represent what they have found out about gardens. Their choice will depend on their interests, their ages, and the resources available. Among the activities a group might choose to do are:
- Tell a story that involves gardens
- Write poetry
- Make music
- Create a map of a garden
- Paint a mural that includes plants and creatures that they have seen in various gardens
- Create a dance or step routine
- Put on a play in which gardens have a key role
- Host an event at which others can view their work
- Plan a less-complex final activity such as making a book that can be passed around among families
The teacher can help the children’s decision-making process in various ways, such as the following:
- Ask the children, “What do you especially want others (for example, parents or another class) to know about your study of gardens?” “What do you think might be especially interesting to (your father, your little sister, the principal, etc.)?”
- As needed, inform the children of limitations such as time, space, and money that may affect what they can do for culminating activities.
- Serve as an advisor when the groups run into challenges.
- Provide the materials requested by the groups.
- Let the children do the work.
- Help the children set and stick to deadlines for completing their representations.
During Phase 3, children may feel inspired to imaginatively express what they have been learning about gardens as part of the culminating activity. The teacher might choose from a number of possible ways to foster their creative work, depending on the children’s ages and interests:
- Encourage individual children to represent something of particular interest to them that is related to gardens.
- Let children use multiple media to plan or represent a special garden that they would like to have at home or at school.
- Take children to the local library to look for illustrations and art prints that depict gardens or various things related to gardens.
- Invite the class to discuss the different ways that artists, artisans, and illustrators represent information about gardens through the use of color, line, shape, and other artistic elements. Their work or that of local artists and artisans may inspire children to express ideas and feelings about gardens, using fine arts materials such as paints, clay, wire, and other media.
- Share picture books with the children that include poetry and fantasy stories involving gardens. Invite children to make up their own poetry, songs, or original stories related to gardens.
- Introduce music related to gardens. Invite children to talk about how various pieces of music may express particular feelings about things they have experienced during the project.
- Suggest that children compose or improvise their own “garden” music, using items such as gardening tools, dried plant parts, their own voices, and musical instruments. Help them record their compositions.
- Watch videos of dancers depicting flowers or other things that may be found in gardens (for example, “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky). Encourage children to invent creative movement routines or dances related to gardens.
- Invite the class to act out stories related to gardens. The creative dramatics may be informal, with the children acting out roles in the story as someone reads. Some of the children may want to try something more elaborate, such as puppet theater, a pantomime performance, or acting “in costume.” The teacher can provide fabric and other materials for children who want to make puppets or costumes.
Involving Families in Phase 3
Family members often enjoy seeing what children have done and learned during a project. As the investigation of gardens comes to a close, the class may think of a variety of ways to share their work with their families. Here are some ways that teachers can help:
- Let children create invitations to family members to view the displays. Encourage them to depict something they know about gardens on the invitations.
- Display photos, sketches, or models made by family members along with items that the children have created.
- Provide volunteer opportunities for family members during the culminating activities (for example, setting up a snack table, supervising a seed-planting activity, or guiding “traffic” while children take guests on tours of the school garden).
- Invite parents to reflect on their children’s participation in the garden project (for example, by asking them to use “comment cards” next to different parts of the children’s display).
A Final Word
This Project Guide is meant to suggest possibilities, to support the teacher who wants some ideas for ways to get started with a project related to gardens, or to help maintain momentum once an investigation is underway.
Keep in mind that the children themselves are likely to find many worthwhile ways to investigate gardens. In fact, as children pursue what interests them, any project may end up with a main focus very different from what was originally expected. Gardens could become just a small part of some other topic that engages the minds of many children in a class.
Thanks to those who granted permission to use their work. Permission to use slide show photographs: Jeannette McCollum (slides 2, 3, 5), Durango Mendoza (slides 4, 12, 20, 22, 31, 49, 54, 55, 58-61, 63, 66, 67), Lola Mendoza (slides 7, 48). Permission to use photographs in Figure 1: Durango Mendoza. Permission to take photographs used in slide show and in figures: University Primary School, Champaign, Illinois; Country Arbors Nursery, Urbana, Illinois; Wolfe Orchard, Monticello, Illinois.
Appendix A: Benchmarks
The following table suggests some benchmarks in the 2013 Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards that are likely to be addressed during a project on gardens.
1.A.ECc: Provide comments relevant to the context.
- children participate in making the topic web.
- small groups and individuals report their findings.
- children comment on classmates’ findings.
- children contribute to discussion of what to do for a culminating activity.
1.B.ECa: Use language for a variety of purposes.
- children make comments or ask questions during discussions about gardens throughout the project.
- children dictate labels or captions for their drawings and other representations.
- children dictate questions that they want to ask guest experts.
- children explain their findings to others.
- children write/dictate invitations or thank-you notes to guest experts and other adults.
- children negotiate roles during dramatic play that is related to what they are learning about gardens.
1.B.ECb: With teacher assistance, participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners (e.g., peers and adults in both small and large groups) about age-appropriate topics and texts.
- children help to create a topic web as a class.
- in small groups, children decide what they want to find out about their subtopic and where to get information.
- children talk or correspond with experts on the topic of gardens.
- children discuss books and other resources about gardens with classmates and teachers.
- children help to plan a culminating activity.
1.C.ECa: Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with teacher assistance, provide additional detail.
- children report to the class about what they have done and found during field work, answering questions from classmates and teachers to clarify what they have said.
1.D.ECc: Understand and use question words in speaking.
- children develop a list of their questions about gardens.
- children plan questions they will ask guest experts.
- children create surveys of classmates, family members, and others.
- children question each other about their findings.
1.E.ECb: Exhibit curiosity and interest in learning new words heard in conversations and books.
- children ask about and begin to use specialized vocabulary related to gardens that they hear during field work.
1.E.ECc: With teacher assistance, use new words acquired through conversations and book‐sharing experiences.
- children accurately use new vocabulary related to gardens in their conversations, questioning, labeling, dictations, dramatic play, and representations of what they have learned.
2.A.ECa: Engage in book-sharing experiences with purpose and understanding.
- children use books to find information about garden.
- children create books to report what they have learned about gardens and share the books with classmates and others.
- children create books that include their original stories or poems related to gardens and share the books with classmates and others.
2.C.ECa: Interact with a variety of types of texts (e.g., storybooks, poems, rhymes, songs).
- children use reference works, magazines, informational books, advertisements, and the Internet to find answers to questions.
- children listen to and tell stories that involve gardens.
- children look at diagrams, instruction sheets, and schematic drawings related to gardens.
- children find printed words, numerals, etc., on the objects they are studying, such as seed packets or manufacturer’s labels.
- children make their own books, diagrams, etc.
- children sing songs related to gardens.
2.D.ECa: With teacher assistance, discuss illustrations in books and make personal connections to the pictures and story.
- children discuss the various ways that artists depict gardens in books, paintings, drawings, sculpture, etc.
- children illustrate their own books involving gardens.
- children listen to and act out stories that involve gardens, such as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
3.A.ECa: With teacher assistance, ask and answer questions about details in a nonfiction book.
- children use nonfiction books as sources of information about gardens.
5.B.ECa: With teacher assistance, use a combination of drawing, dictating, or writing to express an opinion about a book or topic.
- children predict possible answers to a question.
- children respond to an opinion question on a survey (“Do you like flower gardens?”) by writing their names.
5.B.ECb: With teacher assistance, use a combination of drawing, dictating, or writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
- children dictate labels or captions for field drawings and photographs.
- children write or dictate what they have found out during field work.
- small groups report to the class about what they have observed or found out, using their drawings as visual aids.
5.B.ECc: With teacher assistance, use a combination of drawing, dictating, or writing to narrate a single event and provide a reaction to what happened.
- children tell what happened during a site visit, interview, or experiment by drawing, writing, and/or dictating to an adult.
5.C.ECa: Participate in group projects or units of study designed to learn about a topic of interest.
- in large or small groups, children discuss what they want to find out about gardens.
- children follow up on their own questions during field work.
- children actively investigate many aspects of gardens.
- children share information with classmates and others in a variety of ways.
5.C.ECb: With teacher assistance, recall factual information and share that information through drawing, dictation, or writing.
- children use newly acquired knowledge when they illustrate, dictate, or write their findings and ideas related to gardens throughout the project.
- children help create displays of their work for parents and others to see.
6.A.ECa: Count with understanding and recognize “how many” in small sets up to 5.
- children count items they observe (number of ears on a corn plant, number of tines on a garden fork, etc.).
- children count items they will need for their representations, such as wheels for a wheelbarrow or pipe cleaners to use as plant stems.
- children count out items (photographs, drawings, artifacts, etc.) to be used in displays.
6.A.ECd: Connect numbers to quantities they represent using physical models and informal representations.
- children create models or other representations that include correct numbers of parts (such as hoops on a hoop house, legs on an ant).
- children decide how many cups of soil or mulch to use when making a model of a garden.
- children recognize that numerals on a rain gauge stand for amounts of water.
7.A.ECc: Use vocabulary that describes and compares length, height, weight, capacity, and size.
- children use terms such as “how high,” “how deep,” “how far apart,” etc.
- children describe or discuss differences and similarities in length, height, weight, and capacity of various garden items they have seen during field work.
- children discuss differences in size and weight of various things grown in gardens or tools used in gardening.
- children keep track of rainfall on a rain gauge.
7.A.ECd: Begin to construct a sense of time through participation in daily activities.
- children investigate how long it takes for plants to germinate in a garden.
- children create a time line or storyboard showing the sequence of steps in planting a seed or tending a garden.
- children make and keep to a schedule for plant care.
- children keep to a schedule for completing their representations of what they have found out.
- children help to plan, prepare, and host a culminating activity.
7.C.ECa: With teacher assistance, explore use of measuring tools that use standard units to measure objects and quantities that are meaningful to the child.
- children and teachers use a rain gauge to tell how much rain has fallen.
8.A.ECa: Sort, order, compare, and describe objects according to characteristics or attribute(s).
- children discuss or make drawings that show the ways various plants, gardens, or garden tools are similar to or different from each other.
- children sort collected items such as seeds, seed packets, and garden tools when making real graphs, Venn diagrams, etc.
- children use words such as high/low, large/small, round/flat, more/fewer when discussing gardens they have observed.
9.A.ECa: Recognize and name common two- and three-dimensional shapes and describe some of their attributes (e.g., number of sides, straight or curved lines).
- children discuss and describe shapes (rectangular, circular, spiral, etc.) of various gardens or parts of gardens they observe.
- children discuss and describe shapes of seeds and other items they have collected.
10.A.ECa: With teacher assistance, come up with meaningful questions that can be answered through gathering information.
- children say what they would like to find out about gardens.
- children talk about potential ways to find the information they need.
10.A.ECb: Gather data about themselves and their surroundings to answer meaningful questions
- children closely study various gardens or things they see in gardens, noticing textures, odors, sounds, and visible properties (size, patterns, colors, etc.).
- children use a variety of methods to collect information, including observation, counting, measurement, and experimenting.
- children collect and study artifacts and specimens related to gardens.
- children interview experts about gardens.
- children take surveys of peers and family members on topics related to gardens (e.g., “Did you ever plant a garden?” or “Have you seen ants in your garden?”).
10.B.ECa: Organize, represent, and analyze information using concrete objects, pictures, and graphs, with teacher support.
- children use objects they have collected as examples when they report findings.
- children collaborate to make graphs, charts, or Venn diagrams using information related to gardens.
- children make accurate and detailed pictures or models of gardens, garden equipment, plants, etc.
- children organize drawings, photos, and other documentation to tell the story of their investigation of gardens.
10.B.ECb: Make predictions about the outcome prior to collecting information, with teacher support and multiple experiences over time.
- children predict possible answers to some of their questions about gardens.
- children speculate about possible outcomes of an exploration, experiment, or survey.
- children check their findings against their predictions.
11.A.ECa: Express wonder and curiosity about their world by asking questions, solving problems, and designing things.
- children ask “what,” “how,” “when,” or “why” questions or state what they want to find out.
- children find solutions to challenges throughout the project, individually or with others.
- children design explorations and experiments to answer specific questions related to gardens (e.g. “Which is heavier, a bucket of mulch or a bucket of water?” or “How can we find out if a bean will sprout faster than a carrot seed?”)
11.A.ECb: Develop and use models to represent their ideas, observations, and explanations through approaches such as drawing, building, or modeling with clay.
- children use a variety of media to create representations of what they have seen or learned during the project.
- children create items related to gardens (paper flowers, a shovel made from a cardboard tube, etc.) for their dramatic play.
11.A.ECc: Plan and carry out simple investigations.
- children plan explorations or experiments that address specific questions, such as “What is the tallest plant in the garden?” or “Will red worms really eat carrot peels?”
- children carry out the explorations and experiments and share their findings with classmates.
11.A.ECd: Collect, describe, compare, and record information from observations and investigations.
- children take notes and make sketches during field work, which they use to report findings to classmates.
- children notice and discuss differences in their findings (e.g., “My neighbor said squash bugs are the worst problem in her garden. Jacari’s grandma said potato bugs are the worst.”
- children help to create displays showing what they have found out about gardens.
11.A.ECf: Make meaning from experience and information by describing, talking, and thinking about what happened during an investigation.
- children revisit their initial questions and predictions to discuss how their understandings about gardens have changed.
- children discuss and think about what they especially want others, such as parents or another class, to know about their investigation of gardens.
- children bring ideas and information about gardens into their dramatic play by creating a garden tool store, pretending to plant a garden, etc.
11.A.ECg: Generate explanations and communicate ideas and/or conclusions about their investigations.
- children decide on formats (hallway murals, booklets for families, videos, open houses) for sharing what they have found out with others.
- children summarize their knowledge and understandings about gardens in ways that are accessible to others (a list, a display of models with explanatory notes, a guided tour of the school garden, etc.).
12.A.ECa: Observe, investigate, describe, and categorize living things.
- children investigate the various types of plants people cultivate in gardens.
- children investigate parts of plants (leaves, flowers, fruit, pollen, roots, stems) that aid in identifying plant species.
- children learn ways to identify plants in a garden using a variety of resources, such as seed catalogs or books about garden plants.
- children differentiate among the forms of animal life (insects, slugs, rabbits, etc.) that may be found in gardens.
12.A.ECb: Show an awareness of changes that occur in oneself and the environment.
- children predict potential changes that may occur in gardens they are studying (e.g., “Maybe the strawberries will get red.”)
- children notice and keep a record of changes in the gardens and the plants, such as the height of plants, the color of leaves, and the presence or absence of flowers or fruits.
- children help to organize drawings and photographs chronologically to show others the changes in gardens or specific plants during the study.
12.B.ECa: Describe and compare basic needs of living things.
- children find out through field work (interviews, observation, reading, experiments, etc.) what various garden plants need to survive.
- children find out some reasons people grow vegetables in gardens.
- children find out what specific animals might do in gardens (e.g., eat plants, create compost, and make homes).
12.C.ECa: Identify, describe, and compare the physical properties of objects.
- children talk with each other about the structure of various gardens.
- children explore and discuss properties of a variety of materials, such as soil, mulch, sand, water, and compost, used to make gardens.
- children discuss how certain materials, such as stones, mulch, and topsoil, are used when making gardens.
12.C.ECb: Experiment with changes in matter when combined with other substances.
- children explore mixing water with topsoil, mulch, etc.
12.D.ECb: Explore the effect of force on objects in and outside the early childhood environment.
- children test the strength and durability of different materials (cardboard, wood, etc.) when making models of gardens or garden equipment.
- children test the holding power of glue or fasteners they use when making models of gardens and garden equipment.
- children observe what happens to garden plants during a strong wind or when covered with water, snow, or ice.
12.E.ECb: Participate in discussions about simple ways to take care of the environment.
- children discuss and help to maintain a worm compost bin indoors.
- children discuss and help to make temporary pots from newspaper for germinating seeds.
12.F.ECa: Observe and discuss changes in weather and seasons using common vocabulary.
- children sketch or photograph gardens in a variety of weather conditions (rain, dry weather, frost, snow) and talk about their observations.
13.B.ECa: Use nonstandard and standard scientific tools for investigation.
- children use magnifiers and binoculars to examine various gardens.
- children use string, tape measures, unit cubes, etc., to measure various things in the gardens they study.
- children weigh rocks, top soil, garden tools, and other items using balance scales, spring scales, etc.
- children weigh and measure seeds, plants, fruits, flowers, etc., from the gardens they study.
- children learn the uses of garden tools and equipment, such as wheelbarrows, irrigation systems, trowels, rakes, and rain gauges.
- children use pails, trowels, and other tools to collect specimens from gardens.
13.B.ECb: Become familiar with technological tools that can aid in scientific inquiry.
- children use digital cameras to record data about gardens.
- with adult help or independently, children use computers to find and record information about gardens.
14.C.ECa: Participate in voting as a way of making choices.
- children vote or reach consensus about types of seeds to plant or study.
- children vote or reach consensus about how to present what they have learned to others.
14.D.ECb: Participate in a variety of roles in the early childhood environment.
- children do research individually and with others to answer their questions about gardens.
- children share information with classmates with words, drawings, models, etc.
- children plan and create displays to share their information about gardens with others.
15.A.ECa: Describe some common jobs and what is needed to perform those jobs.
- children interview people (landscape architects, composters, horticulturists, home and garden center workers, etc.) whose work involves gardens.
- children examine the tools and equipment used by people who have gardens.
- children report what they have learned from people whose work involves gardens.
- during dramatic play, children take roles of people whose work involves gardens.
15.D.ECa: Begin to understand the use of trade or money to obtain goods and services.
- children investigate prices of various seeds, plants, garden tools, and equipment.
16.A.ECa: Recall information about the immediate past.
- …children report to others about what they have learned during fieldwork.
- children dictate the story of a site visit or interaction with a visiting expert.
- children create a time line (with adult help) to show the steps involved in their field work.
- children bring ideas from their field work into dramatic play involving gardens.
17.A.ECa: Locate objects and places in familiar environments.
- children are able to find specific plants or objects in a garden or other place they have visited previously.
17.A.ECb: Express beginning geographic thinking.
- children describe some aspects of where gardens are located (e.g., “The community garden is across the street from our school.”).
- children can describe where a plant or other item is located in a garden they have visited, relative to some other objects there (e.g., “The cabbages are next to the fence”.)
- children make a model of a garden they have seen using blocks, “boxes and junk,” or other materials.
- children help make a map of a garden they have investigated.
18.A.ECa: Recognize similarities and differences in people.
- children can differentiate among the variety of people whose work involves gardens.
- children take surveys of classmates, family members, and neighbors about experiences and habits related to gardens (e.g., “Do you have a garden?” or “Do you like to grow squash?”).
- children can identify various reasons why a person might have a garden and various reasons for choosing specific plants for a garden.
- children take a variety of roles in dramatic play related to gardens.
18.B.ECa: Understand that each of us belongs to a family and recognize that families vary.
- children do activities, such as a survey, with their families related to the project, then report their findings and experiences to classmates.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECe: Use writing and drawing tools with some control.
- children use pencils, pens, markers, or crayons to make observational sketches and drawings.
- children explore the use of protractors and other drawing aids when drawing gardens.
- children make signs, etc., for dramatic play related to gardens.
Physical Development and Health
19.B.ECa: Coordinate movements to perform complex tasks.
- children make newspaper pots.
- children plant seeds.
- children demonstrate how to use particular garden tools.
Physical Development and Health
19.B.ECb: Demonstrate body awareness when moving in different spaces.
- children explore how their bodies move when planting a seed, pulling a weed, or pushing a wheelbarrow.
- children act out being gardeners or growing plants during creative movement activities.
Physical Development and Health
19.C.ECa: Follow simple safety rules while participating in activities.
- children wear sun protection and proper clothing when doing outdoor fieldwork.
- children talk with experts about garden safety procedures.
Physical Development and Health
23.A.ECa: Identify body parts and their functions.
- children observe and discuss how the human body works during garden-related activities such as digging, planting, picking, or carrying.
25.A.ECa: Movement and Dance: Build awareness of, explore, and participate in dance and creative movement activities.
- children choreograph or participate in creative movement activities related to gardens.
25.A.ECb: Drama: Begin to appreciate and participate in dramatic activities.
- children create or have roles in dramatic performances (skits, puppet shows) related to gardens.
25.A.ECc: Music: Begin to appreciate and participate in music activities.
- children sing songs related to gardens.
- children create instrumental pieces related to what they have learned about gardens.
25.A.ECd: Visual Arts: Investigate and participate in activities using visual arts materials.
- children use a variety of visual media (painting, photography, videography, sculpture, etc.) to represent what they have learned about gardens.
25.B.ECa: Describe or respond to their creative work or the creative work of others.
- children discuss the creative processes (making models, painting, dramatics, music-making, etc.) involved in representing what they have learned.
- children constructively respond to classmates’ creative efforts.
- children talk about the ways that various artists depict gardens in their work.
26.B.ECa: Use creative arts as an avenue for self-expression.
- children use a variety of visual materials to express their ideas, feelings, and new understandings about gardens.
- children use creative movement, drama, and music to express ideas, feelings and understandings about gardens.
30.C.ECa: Exhibit eagerness and curiosity as a learner.
- children participate willingly in a variety of activities related to the project.
- children involve their families in some activities related to gardens, such as drawing at home or answering a survey question.
30.C.ECb: Demonstrate persistence and creativity in seeking solutions to problems.
- children persevere when faced with challenges when creating models and other representations.
- as needed, children try multiple approaches to tasks such as explaining an idea, making a graph, or carrying out an experiment.
30.C.ECc: Show some initiative, self-direction, and independence in actions.
- children involve their families in activities related to gardens.
- children develop surveys and ask classmates, teachers, and family members to participate.
31.B.ECa: Interact verbally and nonverbally with other children.
- children ask classmates questions or respond to questions from classmates during group discussion.
- in small groups, children plan ways to investigate gardens.
- children collaborate with peers to make models, create displays, write books, etc.
- with peers, children play games or engage in dramatic play related to gardens.
31.B.ECb: Engage in cooperative group play.
- children make and/or play table games related to gardens.
- children’s dramatic play involves gardens.
- It’s a good idea to ask families specifically about their children’s allergies before the project begins. Some children may be allergic to plant pollen, mold, or insect stings and bites. Children with such allergies can participate in the project, but a few activities may be off limits to them.
- It’s a good idea for the teacher to ask about use of chemical treatments in any garden, nursery, or other site that the children might ultimately visit. Some children are especially sensitive to fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Any visits by the class should be planned for times when the chemicals have not been freshly applied, if finding another site that doesn’t use the chemicals is not possible.
- Commercially packaged seeds and bulbs may be treated with chemicals that children should not handle. To avoid contact with these chemicals, it’s best to use food-grade seeds or seeds and bulbs taken directly from plants for the class collection. Keep in mind that some children are allergic to nuts, peanuts, or soybeans.
About this resource
- Teachers / Service providers
Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
- Preschoolers (Age 3 Through Age 5)
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
- Goal 1
- Goal 10
- Goal 11
- Goal 12
- Goal 13
- Goal 15
- Goal 17
- Goal 18
- Goal 19
- Goal 2
- Goal 25
- Goal 26
- Goal 3
- Goal 30
- Goal 31
- Goal 5
- Goal 6
- Goal 7
- Goal 8
- Goal 9
- Language Arts
- Physical Development and Health
- Social Studies
- Social/Emotional Development
- Standard 1.A
- Standard 1.B
- Standard 1.C
- Standard 1.D
- Standard 1.E
- Standard 10.A
- Standard 10.B
- Standard 11.A
- Standard 12.A
- Standard 12.B
- Standard 12.E
- Standard 12.F
- Standard 13.B
- Standard 15.D
- Standard 17.A
- Standard 18.B
- Standard 19.A
- Standard 19.B
- Standard 2.A
- Standard 2.C
- Standard 2.D
- Standard 25.A
- Standard 25.B
- Standard 26.B
- Standard 3.A
- Standard 30.C
- Standard 31.B
- Standard 5.A
- Standard 5.B
- Standard 5.C
- Standard 6.A
- Standard 7.A
- Standard 7.C
- Standard 8.A
- Standard 9.A
- The Arts