Taking Family Literacy to the Garden

Taking Family Literacy to the Garden

With the weather changing and signs of summer on the horizon, my family is excited to be out in our gardens. My husband and I both grew up growing food on our family farms, and love sharing this with our children. At two and four years old, they are already skilled at planting seeds, watering, pulling carrots from the soil and, of course, finding all of the ripest raspberries before we get any!

Gardening teaches many lessons, such as how plants grow, how to care for something and how important patience is. Gardening is always teaching us new things. As soon as you think you have mastered something, there are new experiments to try. Families can also incorporate family literacy activities into their gardening to enhance their learning together.  

With most people at home this spring due to COVID-19, there are many people looking to garden for the first time this year. Parents are also doing family literacy activities as a way to continue their children’s learning while schools are closed. If you are gardening with your family, it can be hard to think of ways to incorporate literacy activities on the spot. It is helpful to have a toolkit of ideas. Here are some of my favourite family literacy activities to do while gardening.

  • Counting and numeracy
    • Children can count larger seeds like beans, sunflower seeds, peas (but you need to ensure that they don’t have inoculant powder on them) or pumpkin seeds.
    • Count as you pluck leaves from spinach or other greens.
    • If you are building garden boxes, get the whole family involved in measuring and planning.
  • Fine motor skills
    • Kids can help with pulling weeds and thinning plants. Just watch to make sure they are pulling the right plants.
    • Digging holes by scooping soil by hand or a small shovel.
  • Gross motor skills
    • Watering with a hose or watering can is fun and helps children develop their gross motor skills.
    • The whole family will practice their balance skills as the plants make the garden more and more full through the season. You will need to navigate pathways and avoid plants that may start to overgrow the paths.
  • Reading
    • There are many great children’s books about gardening. There are fun story books as well as non-fiction books. Check out the selection at your local library.
    • Seed packets and plant tags have lots of very important information. You can read the spacing and light requirements for the plant, as well as the average number of days from planting to ripening.
    • Once you have grown food, you can find recipes online for new ways to cook or preserve your harvest.
  • Communication and vocabulary
    • Ask open-ended questions in the garden, for example:
      • What do you hear?
      • Why do you think this sunflower looks different than the one over there?
      • What do you think that ant is doing?
  • Writing
    • Keep a family gardening journal
      • Write down important things like when plants or seeds are planted and the weather.
      • Mark down when you add fertilizer or make notes of changes in your plants.
      • Smaller children can draw pictures of how plants are changing or give you their thoughts to write down.
    • Make creative plant markers
      • Younger children can paint sticks for you to write on, and then decorate them. Older children can write the plant names themselves.

Remember that everyone can garden, in even the smallest spaces. Many people worry about not having a “green thumb”, but many plants are hardy and can help develop your gardening confidence. If you are worried about space or your growing skills, you can start with potted herbs or hardy greens like kale or chard. Most of the activities above can been done whether gardening in patio pots or large garden plots.

Happy growing!

-Katie Johnson, Family and Community Literacy Coordinator


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