1. Plan with your child what you will plant. One of my favorite things to grow is tomatoes, so let’s use that as an example.
2. Buy the seeds with the child if possible, or what would REALLY be fun would be to buy a lovely, fresh tomato and scoop out the seeds.
3. Dry out the seeds on a paper towel.
I will use the Pennsylvania standards for kindergarten as I reference some important lessons that can be taught using a garden.
Sort foods into categories, classify them as healthy or not healthy, and identify nutritious snacks and beverages. This standard could be taught as you choose what you will plant. It is possible that if you have a vegetable-intolerant child, he might be more inclined to taste something he worked hard to grow! If your child loves spaghetti, grow a spaghetti garden including tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano, green peppers, and whatever else you like to include in spaghetti sauce. (I love chunks of zucchini or summer squash).
Participate in physical activities that promote fitness and health during outdoor time, describe physical differences felt after participating in activities, or work cooperatively with a partner or small group to complete a project. The benefits to the child of being involved in this hands-on, healthy, outdoor activity are too numerous to recount here.
Counting and using numbers up to 20; count by ones and tens to identify an amount of money; learn penny, nickel, and dime and their value; write numbers; etc. Wow, this gardening activity is a wonderful basis for all of this. Talk about how many coins you need to buy the seeds to plant. Find out how much tomatoes cost at the market, estimate how many tomatoes you might grow on each plant, how much they could sell for, subtract the cost of seeds, count the seeds you plant... the list could go on and on and on.
Estimate how many objects are in a group (pile of tomatoes?), check estimate by counting, draw pictures of tomatoes in two sets, then explain the process of joining the two groups (how many objects are in each group, and how many are there once you put the groups together), explore the concepts of addition and subtraction using sets of tomatoes (this is where plastic play food or paper tomatoes cut out by the child comes in really handy)!
Determine the length and height of objects, comparing tall to short, etc., participate using a calendar, discuss seasons, time of day, and so forth. This standard is perfect for relating to a garden – you can talk about the time of year that works best for planting; whether it is better to do gardening chores in the heat of the day or wait until the sun is less hot; mark on the calendar the different events relating to the garden, such as the day you prepared the soil, the day you planted the seeds, the day you saw your first seeds coming up; etc. Plan the time of day you will work in the garden, how long you will spend, etc.
(Yes, this is kindergarten!) Gather, organize and display data on a bar graph or pictogram. You could use a bar graph to show the growth of your tomato plants. One side could show the passing of time (week one, week two, etc.) while the other shows the height of the tomato plant.
Use concrete objects to show equal or not equal: my pile of 3 tomatoes compared to your pile of 5 tomatoes. Use concrete objects in a number story that contains a missing addend: “I have 5 tomatoes and I need 10 to make spaghetti sauce. How many more tomatoes do I need to pick from the garden?”
Identify the parts that make up a whole (skin, pulp, seeds of tomato), study plants to identify the parts, sort objects into natural and human-made. Plant seeds and record how they change over time, participate in cooking projects to understand changes caused by heat, learn about sunshine or shade and how they affect a growing plant.
(Although I feel I have amply demonstrated my point, here’s another topic.) Observe and document the growth of a living thing through drawings, explore the life cycles of a living thing (seeds to plants to fruit to seeds).
Conduct an experiment to change the state of matter. Use tomatoes to do this experiment: cut them up into chunks, cook them with water to make a thick liquid, and then freeze some of the sauce in ice cube trays to make them into a solid. Participate in safe cooking activities to combine substances to make a new substance: make spaghetti sauce using the wonderful plants you grew in your garden!
Oh my, this is getting really long, and you could continue as you study weather. We started seeds for our garden in little peat pots and have them in a sunny window waiting for the danger of frost to pass. Once temps are favorable, we’ll transplant all the eager spaghetti ingredients into the waiting plot of ground. I think maybe we’ll post pictures of our progress so you can join with us as we watch our garden grow!