Just outside your door hovers a willing teacher’s aide: Mother Nature.
How you incorporate the exuberance of spring in your forced home schooling is up to your own interests and those of your children, and what type of outdoor space is available to your family. But you don’t need tools, study guides or expertise.
“Kids and gardens go together,” says Lisa Taylor, veteran children’s garden instructor. “Just trust that it will work.”
Taylor, a garden educator-in-residence at Seattle and Shoreline schools who previously helmed the children’s garden at Tilth Alliance, recognizes that it’s tough for parents to teach their own kids. She suggests you let nature be your guide.
“You don’t have to know anything, just be curious and engage your world outside. Gardening is one of the true intergenerational things to learn,” Taylor said.
Plants, especially the ones now bursting into flower, and critters coming to life in the warming spring weather, can spur science inquiries.
Here are some ways to help your kids learn about nature.
Play garden I-spy
Keep a journal of daily walks through the garden.
- Set a routine to visit the same spot at the same time every day to see what’s different.
- Record facts, like a count of bugs or the outdoor temperature.
- Measure and mark 1 square foot of space and limit your observations to that little spot of land.
- Include art, like drawing leaf shapes or insects. Collect leaves and make collages. Dried, pressed leaves on paper can make wonderful bookmarks.
Explore a habitat
You can also range more widely and just explore.
“Check out an area of the garden and talk about what each area needs,” Taylor advises. “What do all living things need? We’re really talking about the greater planet.” A jumbled pile of leaves and twigs is the perfect bug hideaway, and there will be many discoveries when overturning a rock or a pot in the garden. Taylor calls it “garden tide pooling.” Such exploration can lead to a discussion of habitats, and what we can do to create or enhance habitat for insects and pollinators.
- Many seeds can be started in pots indoors, sprouted in a bright window and eventually moved outside.
- Outdoor space is not required. Grow salad greens in the windowsill, and small leaves will be ready to harvest in as little as two weeks. To observe the germination process, sprout larger seeds like beans on the edge of a wet paper towel stuffed into a clear vase.
- Garden pots are not needed either. Yogurt tubs or takeout food clamshell containers work if they’re at least a couple of inches deep and have tiny drainage holes. Task the kids to repurpose a water bottle into a watering can.
- Online seed catalogs are rich with lessons on plant families, varieties within a crop and cultivation needs.
- Closely examine seeds and imagine what type of plants they will become. Use that as a drawing or story prompt.
Ensure the seed activity is fun, Taylor says. “Make jewelry out of them, cook with them, sing about them!”
Connect the garden to eating, even if it’s just seeking out culinary herbs like rosemary — which is right now bursting with its tiny blue, pollinator-magnet flowers — on a neighborhood walk.
Observe flowers, birds, bees
Botany can be taught by identifying the parts of a flower (here the internet is your friend). But simply charting the prevalence of the most prominent creatures in urban nature can be delightfully instructive.
Birds flit about looking for food and making nests. Note their colors, markings and song, then try to identify species.
Bees are emerging, starting with easy-to-follow bumble bees and then our native super-pollinator, the orchard mason bee. When it’s a little warmer, honeybees come out. Daily observation of their habitat, their food and the quantity of these delightful creatures can instill wonder and further inquisition.
You don’t have to stray far from your door to get fascinating, and comforting, lessons from nature.