Category Archives: child development
I have loved to watch plants grow, going back at least to age 7 when I laid on the ground to look up, with pure appreciation, at a spindly young tree in front of my family’s apartment in Baltimore. Beginning with bulbs and flower seeds there, I have grown houseplants and/or vegetables in just about every place that I’ve lived since that time. While I personally find gardening very therapeutic, it is also a natural laboratory and a place where children can learn all sorts of valuable skills and life lessons.
Here are just a few of the things that children can learn in a garden:
- The life cycle of plants and insects how they are able to transform over time without changing their identity. (Biology)
- How energy is neither created or destroyed; it just changes form. (Physics)
- That all soils are not the same. They have a history. (Geology)
- That fertilizer and Ph make a difference. (Chemistry)
- Fine motor skills: crumbling soil, seed handling, tying plants to a support, using hand tools, etc.
- Gross motor skills: digging, reaching, balancing, pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, etc.
- Math: measurement (space, distance, volume, height, weight, time), counting, geometry (e.g. how shadows will be cast), estimation, etc.
- Veggies always taste better when you grow them yourself. (Nutrition; Self-confidence)
- Plants do best when they are put in location where their needs for sun, water and space can best be met. (Analysis; Organization)
- There is a very close relationship between the effort that you put in and the success of the garden. (Cause/Effect; Work Ethic)
- Things will happen in their own time. (Patience; Delayed gratification)
- Sometimes your plants are damaged by forces you have no control over, like weather, disease and pests. (Resilience; Humility)
- Next year things will be even better! (Planning; Optimism; Self-determination)
There must also be studies out there showing that gardening has mental health benefits, even though they may be more difficult to measure. It’s never too early or too late to introduce children to gardening, whether at home, school or in a community garden. If you are a gardener, share your love and experience with some young people. It’s education, nature style!
Many parents worry that the summer break from school will mean weeks of lost opportunities to learn. Worst yet, they fear that their child may actually lose skills that they have worked so hard to develop. Some parents will enroll their child in some sort of academic program, which may or may not be disguised as a “camp.” Other parents would like to do this , but lack the financial resources to make it happen. The quick tip for this last group of parents is to ask about financial assistance or scholarships that might make a big difference.
For folks who have limited funds, it is important to tap into other resources that may be available. One of the important lessons that my own mother taught me is to not let pride stand in the way of giving your child a valuable experience. When she worked as a housekeeper in the local YWCA, she somehow made it possible for me to take free classes on Saturdays. It was at the Y that I learned how to sew, cook, dance, swim and speak French. She then talked my school into allowing me, as a 4th grader, to sit in with the 6th grade class when they had their French lessons. My brothers and I also had the opportunity to attend day and overnight camps at no cost other than our clothing and required gear. This contrast to our typical inner-city routine expanded our minds in ways that cannot be measured.
As a financially-challenged mom, I have applied that advocacy lesson to the benefit of my own children. I ask about and stay on the lookout for programs and activities in my community. My children have had the opportunity to participate in some expensive specialty programs at a fraction of the cost. There are also low-cost day camps offered by schools, park and recreation departments, churches and other non-profit groups. The Cooperative Extension Service offers 4-H programs year-round where children and youth “Learn by Doing.” During summer there are 4-H traditional and specialty camps. The Boy and Girl Scouts of America also offer summer camping opportunities, which may even be open to non-scouts if space is available. Camps give children the chance to learn about science, nature, crafts, music, sports, etc. and develop in many areas including communication and social skills.
Some private schools that have summer programs for academic enrichment or remediation have scholarships available for those who cannot afford to pay all or any of the cost, but they may not advertise them. Your school guidance counselor or social worker may be aware of these opportunities, as well as other programs that may be targeted toward economically-disadvantaged or at-risk students, or groups that are under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Some of those programs are offered on college and university campuses, making the dream of going to college seem more possible for the children who participate.
Educational websites and software (that can often be borrowed from your public library) offer “games” that can reinforce or develop skills while your child is having fun. Even old-school activity books can sharpen a variety of skills in response to a complaint that “I’m bored!” A walk in a park or a drive in the country can lead to interesting discoveries or raise questions that you can research together (e.g. let’s find out about that bug/rock/plant/historical marker, etc.). Some businesses or factories offer tours, or at least may be willing to allow an employee to take the time to explain what kind of work they do. Local museums and zoos often have discount days and many movie theaters offer special shows for kids at low-cost and may even come complete with popcorn!
The most important thing is to not forget that learning can happen everywhere and everyday, sometimes without your child realizing it. In fact, it’s probably better that way.