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.