Aligning with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework.

The outdoors is a crucial location for children to learn. It can and should be a valuable component of your program’s daily curriculum delivery. Being outdoors benefits children’s health and overall development. They learn about their surroundings by watching, exploring, and engaging with the natural elements. Outdoors, youngsters often engage in intricate creative play and much-needed physical exertion.

While “built” playgrounds with play equipment are common, they are neither necessary or sufficient on their own. Children’s work and play flourish in well-designed locations with hills, greenery, and natural climbing options, such as partially submerged log balancing beams. The play area may mirror the program’s natural environment, which may be temperate, tropical, dry, or freezing. It may give shade and protection from the wind or rain when necessary.

Working with children and families to design, construct, plant, and maintain gardens is another excellent method to connect them to nature. The garden, like the play area, may be tailored to certain geographic locations. Programs with several locations might choose a central location for the garden and enable regular field visits from each of their centers. To naturalize concrete surfaces, urban sites might develop rooftop gardens or employ raised beds and containers. Contact community partners, such as gardening centers or local farmers, for ideas and assistance.

Gardening promotes comprehensive learning. The following are some of the numerous ways gardening may help young children learn across the several Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework (ELOF) categories.

Perceptual, motor, and physical development.

Children are touch and sensory learners. They inhale fresh air and the fragrances of plants and flowers. They encounter the elements of weather and seasons. They work on their balance by going on grass and walkways, sand and dirt, hills and valleys. They gain motor abilities for holding and using tools. Growing herbs and fruit may foster good eating habits that will benefit their physical development.

Language & Communication

Reading about gardening and discussing the growth process may help youngsters develop their vocabulary. Rich talks help them grasp the world and improve their cognitive capacities. Gardening provides many opportunities to write. To identify the different plants, children might draw drawings and scribble labels. They can graph plant heights and the variations between leaves and blooms.


Being outside and gardening allows youngsters to have a better understanding of animal and plant lifecycles. They examine the texture of tree bark, flower petals, plant stems, and leaves. They observe and compare the form, size, and weight of seeds, leaves, and produce. They overcome challenges by devising methods for removing rocks and clearing debris. They utilize scientific reasoning to determine which seeds will produce which vegetables. This is a fascinating and engaging project for young scientists and mathematicians!

Ways to Learn

Starting and maintaining a garden promotes curiosity. Adults may explore with children and see what occurs after seeds are planted. Gardening provides tactile and sensory experiences that may help youngsters self-regulate. The feel of the dirt and the fragrance of the ground may provide consolation. Gardening may assist youngsters learn to work independently as they sow seeds or collect food. They exercise patience while waiting for seeds to sprout and get the benefits of delayed gratification as they wait for product to mature.

Social and Emotional Development.

Gardening may help young children express their emotions as they see plants prosper or suffer. They can collaborate with adults and peers on a variety of activities and, with experience, progress to doing more of them independently.

For pregnant families, planting seeds may spark a discussion about what it means to care for someone else. Learning about a plant’s particular requirements might lead to an appreciation of others’ individual needs.

Consider how you may assist children and families have fun and thrive by creating a huge bed or an intimate potted garden!


Gardening helps everyone in the family, including children and adults. According to studies, including children in the process of cultivating and preparing food improves diet and nutrition. Preschoolers learn fine motor control during gardening, as well as broader muscle groups: gardening employs almost every muscle in the body. Sensory lessons may be found throughout the garden; toddlers can practice color identification, identifying smells, and discovering how fresh food tastes. Gardening decreases stress on an emotional level while also improving concentration and memory intellectually. According to studies, gardening improves math and scientific abilities, as well as standardized exam results. The garden provides several opportunities for scholastic growth; parents may teach their children new words, ecological principles, arithmetic abilities (counting and probability), and scientific methods.

Flower Gardening

Novice gardeners may wish to start small, possibly with a 4′ by 4′ space around a mailbox or near the home. Purchasing modest packets of blossoming annuals (flowers that do not survive the winter) provides preschoolers with rapid benefits. To start your first garden:

Prepare the garden area by digging out any grass or undesired vegetation. Adults are more suited to handle the strenuous task of defining a garden plot.
Turn over the dirt and add a bag of compost or organic soil. Preschoolers will appreciate an activity in which they are allowed to play with soil.
Weed killers, like pesticides, contain harmful chemicals, so avoid using them. Hand weeding helps young toddlers build their hand strength and fine motor control.

Buy annual flowers at a local nursery. Check with the owner to ensure the plants have not been treated with weed killers or pesticides.
Demonstrate how to dig a small hole deep enough to place seedlings and then cover the roots with earth. Small trowels for digging may be purchased online or at garden shops.

Allow your preschooler to use a tiny watering can to carefully water each newly planted flower.
Set aside time in the evening, before or after supper, to water the garden with your preschooler.
Allow plants to dry out throughout the winter and remain until April. The flower stems and decaying flower heads provide refuge for helpful insects and pollinators. Examine the stems and branches for chrysalides and other indicators of hibernating insects.
As your family’s gardening skills improve, consider growing flowers from seeds or exploring native plant gardening with perennials. For additional ideas, check out our earlier blog post on creating a pollinator garden.

Vegetable Gardening

Growing veggies is an excellent lesson on crop production for preschoolers, demonstrating how healthy meals come to the table. Cold-weather vegetables, like as kale, may be planted in early spring and then replaced with easy summer crops like zucchini and string beans. Root vegetables, such as carrots, grow best in raised beds with rich, loose soil. Many veggies grow well from seeds, so try your local garden center. Talk to the nursery owner to ensure that no pesticides are used on any vegetable seeds or seedlings. If they are, check with another garden center or visit an organic nursery. Most beans, zucchini, yellow squash, pumpkin, lettuce, cucumbers, maize, and carrots are among the easiest vegetables to produce from seed. Tomatoes, celery, cauliflower, and eggplant are easy to raise from seedlings.

Gardening For Small Spaces

If establishing a garden in your yard seems daunting, or if you don’t have one, consider a window box or container garden. Window boxes may be filled with flowers, herbs, or both. Plant herbs such as dill, thyme, fennel, or parsley at the rear of the pot, followed by nasturtium seeds in front. The nasturtium blossoms will cascade over the front of the window box, attracting pollinators such as bumblebees, while the herbs in the rear row may be used to season homemade dishes. Preschoolers will love gathering spices to use in meals or dry for later use. The herbs fennel and dill are host plants for black swallowtail caterpillars, so your family may choose not to consume the plants and instead see the life cycle of these pollinators, from little golden egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Nasturtiums, geraniums, herbs, petunias, alyssum, and coleus are all low-maintenance window box annuals.

If you have a balcony, patio, or porch, container gardening is an easy method for families to generate garden space. Preschoolers may help choose pots and plants to fill them. Containers may be filled with annuals or native perennials, which return year after year. Many native flowers are host plants for many butterflies, which deposit their eggs on the leaves. Observing a butterfly’s lifecycle may be a beautiful experience for preschool children. To find out which native plant is necessary for particular butterfly, contact your local Native Plant Society branch or check it up online. Lobelias, nasturtiums, and petunias are easy-care annuals for containers that flow down the side, while taller annuals like geraniums, marigolds, salvia, and zinnias flourish in the rear. Asters, goldenrod, and milkweed are perennials that serve as host plants for many butterfly species.

Setting realistic expectations.

Gardening is a dirty hobby, so make sure everyone wears play clothes. Expect the unexpected: a flower that you anticipated to blossom doesn’t, a seed doesn’t grow, or a butterfly chrysalis fails. By revisiting what happened in the garden, parents may help toddlers develop strong emotional skills as well as critical thinking. By discussing why a plant may or may not have flourished, parents help their child’s analytic mind and critical thinking abilities.

Depending on extracurricular activities, your family’s garden may be wild one year and somewhat neater the next. Finally, an untended garden is more environmentally friendly than a grass or mulch. Creating a sustainable future for our children begins with land management and a more environmentally responsible approach to agricultural production. Children who have a new knowledge and interaction with gardening and landscaping will contribute to a better, more sustainable future.

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