Ideas for using gardening and nature to home school your kids

Title photo with colourful pencils for ideas for using gardening and nature to home school kids

In unprecedented times we are being asked to take charge of our children’s education and I am sure I am not alone in saying that I do not feel qualified to take on such a role.

If you are already home educating your children you have probably already been through the ‘what on earth I am supposed to do?’ phase but for us novices it can be a daunting experience. Parents groups are popping up like mushrooms on social media and WhatsApp, and an enormous amount of resources are being made available to all of us. I personally feel quite overwhelmed with the amount of information and given that my children are still at primary school I feel that I have the luxury to do things with them that are educational but also fall into my comfort zone.

The garden (or balcony or indoor mini garden) is a place where imagination runs wild and where adults and children can get away from everyday stress and the troubles of the world. It is also a great classroom and offers endless opportunities for children to learn and work on key subjects while having fun. This is my comfort zone so I thought about sharing some ideas about how gardening can help you home school. This is going to be a longer than usual blog but you can either get a cuppa and read it all in one go or read the parts that are relevant for what you will be home schooling this week and then return to it for additional info. I will cover 4 key subjects and the activities are divided based on Key Stage, 1 for reception to year 2 and 2 for year 3 to year 6.

Maths - From counting seeds to working out how many plants can fit in a specific space, maths and gardening are a sure match.

Science - Everything that happens in a garden or in the growing process of a plant is science but here are a few ideas.

Art - Gardens and plants have inspired centuries of art and at this time of the year it is hard to find a more colourful and creative space than the garden.

English - Same as visual arts, literature has been hugely influenced by nature so this is a great opportunity to explore how the beauty of nature can be described with words.

Key Stage 1 (KS1)

Maths

For the KS1 children counting the numbers of seeds required for a gardening project could be a very basic activity.

Seeds also offer the opportunity to work on ‘part-whole’ visualisation of simple number sentences.

Why not go on a garden hunt to find flowers with various numbers of petals and then put them in order based on how many they have? These flowers could then be used for both science and art activities!

Or draw numbers in soil and fill them with seeds (sparingly!) so when the seeds sprout they form the number shape? This also works well with cress on cotton.

Science

For KS1 children, science is really about discovering the world around them and get excited about it (let a child loose outside for 5 minutes and we all know that they don’t need much encouragement to start exploring!).

Spring is here so it is a great excuse to go on ‘hunts’. The Woodland Trust Nature Detective activities are a fantastic resource for both KS1 and KS2 children but I particularly like this one for younger ones as it gives plenty of opportunities to talk about what they see in the garden at this time of the year. http://www.treetoolsforschools.org.uk/activities/pdfs/pdf_spring_scavenger_hunt.pdf

Children at this age love to learn through singing so why not get the little ones to learn what each part of the plant does to the tune of ‘The wheels on the bus’? You can create your own moves to it too!

Parts of a Plant song

The roots on a plant grow underground,

Underground, underground.

The roots on a plant grow underground,

Roots are part of a plant.

The stems on a plant hold up the leaves,

Up the leaves, up the leaves.

The stems on a plant hold up the leaves,

Stems are part of a plant.

The leaves on a plant are making food,

Making food, making food.

The leaves on a plant are making food,

Leaves are part of a plant.

The flowers on a plant are growing seeds,

Growing seeds, growing seeds.

The flowers on a plant are growing seeds,

Flowers are part of a plant.

Many insects are coming out too (we counted more than 20 ladybirds in the garden yesterday) so it is a great time for making or buying insect hotels.

Art

For KS1 children it is again all about exploration and discovery of the world. Flowers picked for maths activities can be pressed to make beautiful works of art or used as inspiration for a drawing/painting a nice picture. The latter offers an opportunity to talk about primary colours and how to get other colours by mixing them together. Flowers and new leaves collected in the garden can be used as stamps to make lovely pictures or use for rub art (this video gives you an idea of what I mean)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W66TAqCT4hc

Somewhere in between science, english and art is the following resource: https://bbsrc.ukri.org/documents/activity3-pdf/. Cutting out the various parts of a plant and creating a jigsaw/collage of a plant (in this case a sunflower) is a great arts and craft activity with the bonus of learning the names of the various parts of the plant. You can also reinforce this activity using the ‘Parts of a Plant’ song presented in the section on science.

English

For KS1 children learning new words is a key aspect of English lessons. Have a walk in the garden and identify at least 5 things that they don’t know the name of, it can be a tool, a flower, a tree or anything in their sight. You can then teach them the word and they can learn to spell it (with flower names it might be easier to stick to common names rather than latin ones!). You could even take a picture of them and they can add it next to the written name.

There are endless story books suitable for KS1 about gardening and growing plants, my personal favourites are:

  • Plant a rainbow by Lois Ehlert
  • The Enormous turnip
  • Twist and hop the minibeast bop by Tom Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees
  • Sophies's squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf
  • The tiny seed by Eric Carle

However, most independent book shops have an online presence and will be happy to recommend new titles.

If your little one is keen on writing you could ask them to sit in the garden and write a few sentences about what they can see and hear. Like drawing, writing ‘al fresco’ can at times be challenging as there are many distractions but it is worth trying as for some children it might be the perfect environment to tap into their creativity.

Key Stage 2 (KS2)

Maths

For KS2 children planning an ideal or real garden is a great way to get them calculating. Give them the size of the plot (or they could measure it if it is a real project) and a number of seed packets that need to be planted in the garden. The back of the packets has lot of information about how distant the plants need to be in order to grow so they will need to divide the plot into relevant plant subsections and subsequently into the correct space required for their plants e.g. if  each plant needs 10 cm space to grow and the subplot for that plant is 100 cm wide they will need to divide 100 by 10 to find out how many plants/seeds they can use per row. Same applies for the width of the plot. This activity can be made more visual with drawings or for actual projects outside use string or sticks to mark the plant boundaries.

A more basic version of the garden design is to create seed tape. Using again the details at the pack of a pack of seeds, you can create a tape with seeds that already have the correct distance for optimal growth. This is both great for maths and for saving on seeds as you will not need to thin them out ones they start growing. The link below has a really nice visual of the instructions but given the current situation I would recommend moving away from using toilet paper as tape. I know that kitchen roll works really well for this but with enough glue (water and flour) most thin types of paper e.g. newspaper and paper napkins, should work even if you might not be able to roll it up properly.

https://tuigarden.co.nz/ideas-and-inspiration/how-to-make-seed-tape-diamond-harbour-school/

Science

For KS2 children, there are lots of fun activities under the Woodland Trust Nature Detective platform http://www.treetoolsforschools.org.uk/categorymenu/?cat=activities. I actually couldn't pick a favourite but I will definitely be trying out a few of them and update you on social media. 

If you don’t have access to a garden (or even if you do!), observing how seeds grow is a great science activity. In particular, growing beans can be really educational as the various parts of the seed are visible to the naked eye and can easily be split in two to observe the growing seedling.

In a period of panic buying, why not try to regrow your vegetables from scraps? This is a great experiment for older children and a good way to understand the roles of the various parts of a plant e.g. roots for absorbing nutrients and water, leaves for making food for the plant as well as converting CO2 into oxygen.

For those old enough to be doing some basic chemistry this video on soil composition offers a great opportunity to better understand your garden soil while home schooling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao1Ovr-NQ2Y&t=0s

The video above is from ‘In the weeds with Christine’ which also has a lot of other interesting and informative children’s gardening videos that could be used to cover other science topics. Her videos are available under the KidsGardening.org YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCri6RzqAz-5bKZEpXXRydyg

Art

For KS2 children, the garden can be a massive inspiration in terms of colours, shapes and textures.  If you want to inspire your kid with artwork produced by specific artist or with a specific colour, Google Art and Culture is a fantastic resource definitely worth checking out https://artsandculture.google.com/. It can also help you connect nature with art and history e.g. how nature-inspired shapes has influenced artists and artisans for 1000s of years.

If the weather is nice and not too windy, why not pick a shape and/or colour and ask your child to match it with something in the garden, and make an ‘al fresco’ painting of it.

If your children are anything like mine, you’ll have a regular supply of paper that has been scribbled on but is not precious enough to keep. So why not try to make some lovely recycled paper shapes that contain seeds. Once they have dried they can make a great thought to send to friends or family that they are missing. I have to admit that I have actually never tried making this but it seems fairly straight forward and I will definitely have a go at it over the next few weeks. I’ll share my experience on social media if you want to see how the girls get on with it!

https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/how-to-make-seed-paper-2905562

English

For KS2 children, the ‘al fresco’ writing can definitely be a great resource. You can pick a garden inspired topic (or they can pick it) and they can try to write different types of text (poetry, fictional, authobiographical) on that topic.

Children can also pick an object from the garden to describe in a ‘show and tell’ format either in writing or over videocall to friends and family. You can set specific questions that they have to cover during the session to make it more structured. If they have a video call with their school friends on a regular basis, they can each take it in turn and learn from each other.

As per the KS1 children, there are countless books that have been inspired by nature or that include fantastic descriptions of nature. You don’t have to stick to the garden, many books that describe the wilderness or jungles contain words that can be used to describe our gardens or plants in general. Here are a few interesting ones:

  • The secret garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Oh say can you seed by Dr Seuss
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce
  • From tiny seeds by Emilie Vast
  • The tiny seed by Eric Carle

Again, most independent book shops have an online presence and will be happy to recommend new titles.

I hope the above suggestions will help you during the next weeks or months of home schooling. I look forward to hearing about your ideas and how you are using gardening and nature in your daily or weekly schedule. Feel free to share any success or learnings on Facebook or Instagram



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