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Homeschooling In The Garden

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Written by Hunter   
Monday, 30 March 2009 15:14

Homeschooling in the Garden

Author: Nancy Carter

By Nancy Carter

Do you already find yourself dreaming of working in the soil this spring? Of getting your hands dirty and watching for those little green sprouts to magically appear? Why not use your garden planning time as the ultimate homeschool unit study? Don’t think of gardening as something that takes away from your academics time. Think of it as something that can enrich it.

Involve the children in your research. Gardening will provide wonderful hands-on activities that can truly bring learning to life for your children. It’s something that both boys and girls can enjoy. You don’t have to live out in the country to have a garden. You can start with just a small spot in your yard, containers on your porch, or even a small herb garden in your windowsill. When I was a little girl, I had a wonderful grandmotherly type babysitter who kept a garden in her backyard. My mother often commented about how when she’d pick me up at the end of the day Mama Linda would have all of us kids sitting under a shade tree snapping green beans. We thought it was a wonderful treat to "get" to work in her garden.

Create a garden notebook with all of your plans together in one spot. Start by working together to create a list of all the fruits and vegetables that you eat or enjoy. Don’t feel like you have to grow a patch of squash if your family won’t eat it. Spend your time on things that you all will actually use! Keep it simple. Assign different children to be in charge of certain plants. Narrowing their focus will help keep the tasks from seeming too overwhelming, while also helping your child to really research the best way to care for their plants. Children can find helpful growing information on the Internet, in books and magazines, and from experienced gardeners to put in their notebooks. Practical projects often help encourage even the most reluctant readers and writers. It gives learning purpose and brings satisfaction from a job well done. Watching those first little sprouts develop into an ear of corn, a watermelon, or giant sunflower can really make an impact on a child’s life.

Gardening helps mind, body, and spirit. Researching and planning for your garden involves reading, math, and science and encourages higher level thinking skills. You’ll also be able to use your notebook to journal when and where you plant things. Track the temperature and rain, fertilizing, how much you have to water them, and their growth.

Being outdoors in the sunshine is great for the body. Breathing in the fresh air and eating items straight from your garden can go a long way toward a healthier lifestyle for your family. Gardening provides nutritious food and exercise for growing bodies during those impressionable years. Likewise, the peace and quiet of working with your hands in the garden is good for the spirit, and gardening can help bring many Bible truths to life. The parables of the farmer in Matthew 13 truly come to life when children see how important preparing the soil is when they are trying to grow something.

Consider different types of gardens:

• Traditional Garden—Grow plants directly in the soil in your backyard. One big advantage is how economical this type of garden is. It can be as large or small as you want.

• Lasagna Garden—Grow plants without digging by planting in soil covered with a barrier layer (such as newspaper), compost, and mulch. The advantages are that there is no need to dig, it conserves water, there are fewer weeds to pull, it prevents erosion, and it improves the soil.

• Container Garden—Grow plants in containers rather than planting directly into the ground. Advantages are that there is no digging in your yard, your garden is portable and decorative, and it is susceptible to fewer weeds and soilborne diseases.

• Raised Bed/Square Foot Garden—Grow plants in raised beds enriched with compost about one foot deep and 3-4 feet wide. Advantages with this type of garden include that the close planting creates a microclimate that conserves moisture and reduces weeds; it is easier to maintain; the soil is not compacted by walking on it; and higher yields are obtained.

A subject within gardening that’s interesting to study with your children is companion planting. Companion planting is the method of planting certain pairs or groups of crops in closer proximity because they benefit each other. Native Americans planted the "Three Sisters" together—corn, pole beans, and squash—so that they could benefit from each other. The corn provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants need, and the squash spreads along the ground, monopolizing the sunlight and thereby preventing weeds. The squash leaves act as a "living mulch," creating a microclimate that retains moisture in the soil. The squash also deters pests with its prickly vines. Companion plants can benefit each other by repelling pests, encouraging beneficial insects, providing shelter or structure for each other, improving flavor, and enriching the soil. Carrots Love Tomatoes, by Louise Riotte, is a wonderful handbook for learning more about this method.

Also do some research on succession planting. Succession planting helps maximize your garden season’s potential. You can either plant different varieties of the same crop so they’ll mature at different rates, stagger when you plant crops so that they’ll mature at different times, or plant one crop and then another in the same space. Succession planting is a great way to increase your harvest by maximizing your use of space and timing. Often you can start off with a cool season crop like lettuce, follow it up with tomatoes that thrive in the heat, and then finish off the season with a third crop that grows well into the fall, such as spinach.

Now is the time to start planning, though. Select your plants. Draw out a design of your garden. Gather the materials you’ll need. If you’re planning on a container garden, keep your eye out for containers that you can use. If you’re going to do a lasagna garden, start saving your newspapers and cardboard boxes. If you want to use compost in your garden, start your own worm bin or compost pile to discard your kitchen waste and improve your soil quality. Start building raised beds or gathering materials so you can start seeds indoors. You can also incorporate history into your studies in the garden. Study the Victory Gardens of World War II and discover how Americans grew 40 percent of their vegetables, allowing the War Department to purchase the mass-produced vegetables for the troops overseas. During that time, emphasis was placed on making gardening a family or community effort—not a drudgery but a pastime and a national duty. We can learn a lot from history. As Cicero once said, "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." Do a little gardening with your kids this year. No green thumb is required, just a love of learning and a willingness to get your hands dirty!

Copyright 2008. Originally appeared in The
Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Winter 07/8.

Used with permission. Visit them at
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