In the Garden: Learning about Planting and Growing at Pre-school
Despite the chill in the air, the daffodils and lighter mornings tell us that Spring is coming – and we can’t wait! It’s such a special season with so much change, growth and new life.
There are lots of natural opportunities for learning at this time of year, so we’ve chosen ‘In the Garden’ as our topic this term. From planting and growing to mini beasts, we’re spending lots of time outside, learning about our changing environment and all the living things that contribute to it.
Planting the seeds of knowledge – why we teach the children about the garden
Spring brings so many changes to the children's surroundings, from flowers in the garden to baby lambs in the field. The world comes alive again in this magical season, so it’s an ideal time to teach them about life, growth and how to take care of living things. Through growing their own plants and vegetables, the children learn how living things need to be cared for, fed and watered – just like them. And they’ll work together to tend to their plants, which helps build relationships and teaches them about teamwork.
Teaching pre-school children about planting and growing is also an excellent way for them to learn where their food comes from. You’d be surprised how many children think bananas come from Tesco! Learning about the care and attention needed to grow our food can also help them see how valuable it is and encourage them to be less wasteful.
Inspiring the children to have green fingers can also help promote healthy eating. Pulling a carrot from the ground that you’ve seen grow from a seed, to a sprout, to a full-sized vegetable, is much more interesting than simply grabbing a packet of crisps from the cupboard.
How we teach the children about planting and growing
Let’s get growing!
At St Eval Pre-school we have an strong relationship with Trevisker Primary School. We have our own polytunnel on site there, where we did some great growing last year. We’ve been busy clearing it out and preparing it for this year’s fruit and vegetables. Once the weather is warmer, the polytunnel will come alive with plant life and we’ll go over there regularly, so our little farmers can tend to their crops. This valuable resource not only gives us space to help extend the children’s learning, it's also an important first step in their transitioning to ‘big’ school.
We were very lucky to have Lewi Skinner from Padstow Kitchen Garden visit us recently, who talked to the children about how to grow your own food and take care of plants. During his visit, he helped the children plant lots of seeds that are busy germinating away inside pre-school. When the weather gets warmer, we'll move these to the polytunnel at Trevisker. As well as planting beans, radishes, carrots and leeks with the children, Lewi also taught them about plant awareness - helping them identify what berries you can and can’t eat. The children have since been taking great care of their seeds, watering them daily and patiently waiting for them to grow.
We’ve also been tidying up our garden at pre-school, so we can do some more planting, playing and learning here too. Like last year, we’re hoping to plant things like sunflowers, pumpkins and potatoes. The children will enjoy being outside daily with their rakes, shovels and watering cans, lovingly tending to their crops.
And if they come across a creepy crawly or two, that’s another opportunity for learning. We identify the bugs, discuss what they do and move them to our 5* bug hotel.
We like to teach the children the full lifecycle of our food, from field to fork. So, as the vegetables grow and the berries ripen, we will use them in our snack here at pre-school. The children love to eat the fruits of their labour and it’s an ideal way to promote healthy eating, in line with our healthy eating policy.
This year, we’re lucky to add another dimension to this topic, as one of our staff members is doing some growing of her own. Pregnancy is often a confusing, but very real topic for a lot of our children, so this year, as well as caring for and growing our plants, the children will be learning about pregnancy and how a baby grows too. This is a perfect way to dispel any fears or confusion children might have about pregnancy, and it helps them understand the changes and care it involves. We even have our own sweepstake to guess the gender, which helps the children with their maths.
Other ways we learn about the garden and how you can get involved at home
There are lots of exciting ways to extend the children’s learning in the classroom, at home and out in the community. Here are 10 activities we’re doing at pre-school and how you can easily adapt them at home:
Read books like The Hungary Caterpillar by Eric Carle. As well as teaching the children about metamorphosis, you can use this book as a talking point for the different fruits. You can ask your child: what fruits did the caterpillar eat? Where did the fruit come from? What colour are they? What’s your favourite? There’s also a little movie you could watch together as a special treat.
Welly Walks are something we’re doing a lot of here at pre-school. The newly-opened pathways around our village have a wealth of nature, plants, bugs, birds and animals waiting to be discovered. Get out and about, and see what you can spot.
Next time you sit down to a meal or snack with your child, discuss what you’re eating and where it comes from, e.g. at breakfast time, talk through how your cereal is grown in fields, the milk comes from cows and the berries are grown on plants. You might even learn something new yourself!
Play ‘Guess Where It Comes From’. Choose any fruit or vegetable and ask you child to guess where it grows - trees, plants, bushes, fields, etc.
Use different fruits to elicit different colours. Some fruits and vegetables come in different colours (like apples or grapes), and some change colour as they ripen or get old. Talk through this with your child and see what they already know. This not only teaches them about food, it also practises their colours.
Do some vegetable stamps paintings. Use hard vegetables like potatoes, cut them in half and cut shapes into the flat edge. Dip them in paint and start stamping! It's so easy for little hands to manage and it's lots of fun. You can even try and use a range of different fruit and vegetables - cut them in half and see what natural shapes they make – like this video here.
Chop up fresh herbs and discuss the different smells. At pre-school, we even put herbs in playdough for an added sensory experience. The children love experimenting with different smells and textures.
During our Wake and Shake, we practise growing. We start crouched down as tiny seeds and then gradually stretch up into beautiful flowers. This helps wake the children up, gets them focussed and ready for the day. It’s also gentle exercise.
Put an assortment of seeds, beans and lentils in sensory trays for the children to explore the different textures. We also add in the small world toys like tractors and diggers for an extra bit of fun.
Sing the ‘Peel Bananas’ song. The children love jumping around and going bananas at this simple, yet effective song. Pinkfong (the creators of Baby Shark) have an extended version, which goes through lots of other fruits and vegetables, with exciting dance moves. The children won’t be able to resist!
Year on year, the children at pre-school love learning about the garden, planting and growing. And it's a great way to introduce important issues like food origin and healthy eating. We hope you can use some of the above ideas to get involved at home - we're sure you'll enjoy it just as much as the children.
From little green fingers to muddy boots and smiley faces, 'In the Garden' has to be one of our favourite topics, so let's get growing!
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Written by Erin Madden, Pre-school Secretary and Writer at Ignite Copy.