ACCESS Preschool Teaching Through Gardening

People often say they were introduced to gardening as a child by a parent or grandparent. Even if they weren’t hooked immediately the love of gardening was instilled and by adulthood they had taken up the trowel.

ACCESS Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas has a special gardening program where students learn about many aspects of horticulture from growing to designing to selling plants. I have had the pleasure to work with the school helping with plant selection for their greenhouse as well as having the kids out to the farm for our Daffodil Days in spring.

I asked the preschool director Monika Garner-Smith to be a guest writer on my blog and share how the school uses gardening as a teaching tool.

Naptime, Snacktime and Gardening? How ACCESS Preschool Teaches Early Academic Skills Through Gardening

Gardening can start at any age, and here at ACCESS, we use our gardens to teach literature, science, math and more, even with our youngest learners.

Recently, the ACCESS PreK students read The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. In this book, a little boy plants a carrot seed, and everyone tells him it won’t come up. So, he cares for his garden, weeding and watering every day, and at the end of the book, a huge carrot comes up, just as he knew it would.

Just like the character in the book, the ACCESS PreK students planted carrot seeds, first in their classroom windowsill garden, and, later, once the seeds sprouted, the seedlings were transplanted to the ACCESS Gardens. They also planted beans, squash, okra, banana peppers and tomatoes.

In addition to learning basic principles of gardening, the students are practicing their early writing skills by creating plant markers for the garden and keeping a garden journal. They will also practice creative writing skills by imagining what they would do with giant carrots and describing and illustrating their plans in short stories.

Through close observation, the students practice their math and science skills, tracking seed germination times, learning the life cycles of different plants, measuring and charting plant growth, measuring rainfall, learning about different plant parts, and determining which parts of each plant are edible. Once the vegetables are ready for harvest, the students will practice additional early graphing skills by taste-testing each plant and charting whether plants are crunchy, sweet, bitter, yummy, yucky, etc…

PreK students at ACCESS Group, Inc. dig their classroom vegetable plot as party of a seasonal classroom project. Photo courtesy of ACCESS Group, Inc.

Each day for the next few weeks, the students will care for their vegetable garden by weeding it and giving it the proper amount of water. They will fertilize it with Don’s T, a worm compost tea made here at ACCESS Gardens. Finally, the classroom will present an end-of-the-year skit for their parents entitled The Carrot Seed.

As you can see, our gardens are an outdoor classroom, where students benefit from hands-on, multi-sensory learning. This example above pertains to our youngest gardeners, but gardening can benefit children at any age, at home or at school. Check out our Gardening with Kids handout for tips and projects designed to make gardening educational and fun. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up with an extra helper when it’s time to weed the beds again!

Special thanks to P. Allen for his gardening advice, sharing the Garden Home Retreat with our students and helping to spread awareness about ACCESS Gardens.

Monika Garner-Smith, M.Ed., ACCESS Group, Inc. preschool director, is one of the organization’s three founders and co-teaches the ACCESS PreK classroom.

11 Responses to ACCESS Preschool Teaching Through Gardening

  1. Lisa L. says:

    Children have a natural curiosity for the outdoors. I believe it is so important to nurture this curiosity. They need to be aware of what is around them; to learn how to respect and care for it. Instilling organic living into the next generation is vital to their health and well-being and gardening is an excellent activity for their mind and body. Last summer my little niece came over while I was working in the garden and her eyes lit up when I asked her for help.

    • Lisa,
      I could not agree more! Children are so drawn to the natural world. It can teach them, and us, so much about life! Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  2. Nancy L. says:

    I have been taking care of both my grandson since they were 12 weeks old. They have been helping in the gardens at 1 I showed them what was a weed and what is a flower. I don’t do veggie other than tomatoes. They both know what to pull and what not to step on. They are big helpers in the gardens. They are 6 and 3 it’s a wonderful thing to spend time doing what I love and teaching them that love.

    Nancy L.

  3. Getting them in the garden at an early age will get them eating their veggies : ) Wonderful to see the sharing growing on

  4. Kelsey says:

    My three year old and my 9 month old both help me in our garden. It is wonderful to teach so many lessons in life. There are many good books written for children on gardening. The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle is a good one for little ones. I love the Carrot Seed book – very cute!

  5. Laura Daniel says:

    I work at Access and have had the priveledge to go on the field trip to see the daffadils and to help some in the garden at school. Every day I take someone to the garden to see the seeds sprouting and growing in the vegitable garden. Today there were 4 leaves on the bean sprouts. It was such a joy to see the kids picking and eating the asparagus right from the ground on the farm. Most kids shy away from vegis but the trip and the garden have enriched the experiences of our students.
    Recently, we dug potatos and carrots then cooked them in the class. It is wonderful to see the kids light up with the wonderful literature we have that affirms what they are experiencing in the garden.

  6. Jo Ann says:

    My 40-plus year old son had a wonderful teacher when he was in first grade that taught him the joy of gardening. She had the children hold a green bean in their mouth for a good part of the day (plus it kept them quiet for a while). They planted their beans in paper cups, gave them names and sat them on the window sill until they sprouted. When it was time to transplant them they got to bring their beans home. Unfortunately the very first night rabbits chrewed “Benny Bean” to the ground and I had to on a mission to find a vine in a neighbors garden before he discovered what had happened. That afternoon we purchased some chicken wire and enclosed it. When the beans matured, he got to pick them and helped cook them for a special dinner where he invited both sets of grandparents to enjoy his efforts.

  7. Blair Wells says:

    I am a first grade teacher and my class has a vegetable garden. We live in South Carolina. There is a spot right outside of my classroom. We planted early spring crops…radishes, lettuce, carrots seeds. We also planted strawberry plants. We planted potatoes, onions and collard plants, too. The kids had a ball. We used lots of math skills planning the garden and rows. The children got tape measures and measured, then drew plans on paper. We also had great parents that got involved. We wrote a blog and talked about our garden. We also did blogs and wrote poems about our garden. The students took turns taking photos of our class working in the garden. After working hard they were thrilled to eat their harvest.

  8. Florence Reynolds says:

    I am LUCKY ENOUGH to be a gardener’s daughter who “grew up in a garden”! Then lucky enough to STUDY HORTICULTURE & to become a HORT. TEACHER. Teaching ” Professiona;s” [Doctors & dentists, & Nurses} during WWII to grew vegetables in a big , 3 acre VICTORY GARDEN! Those ADULTS [who had never gardened before} were just a “fascinated” by the WONDER of actually GROWING VEGGIES from SEEDS as any young child!

  9. Matha says:

    Hello Allen,
    I thought your young gardeners would enjoy an gardening adventure, growing the TickleMe Plant (Mimosa pudica). Recently featured by the National Gardening Association,
    If you want to give your young gardeners an experience they will never forget, consider having them grow a TickleMe Plant. This is the plant that will close its leaves and lower its branches when you tickle it. They sprout in days and can be grown indoors any time of year. Just Google TickleMe Plants or go to for information seeds and growing kits. This plant has turned many kids into plant and nature lovers. I know, because I grow TickleMe Plants in my classroom.
    Happy Growing


  10. Marilyn Norberg says:

    I have taught preschool for over 30 years, and also work at the Life Lab garden program at UCSC and have noticed how children are much more willing to try a new food if they have grown it or picked it. With children spending more time indoors on computers etc., it is great to get them out digging in the dirt, close to nature.

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