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Spring Gardening with Children: Our Six Week Montessori Approach 


Gardening with preschool to kindergarten-aged children can be a relaxing and enjoyable learning experience for all. At our Montessori school in Northern VA, Children's House Montessori School of Reston, we have fall and spring gardening time broken down into one simple task each week so that it is fun and even our youngest helpers feel successful.  The children love learning all about the worms and their castings, how to create compost and ensure the soil is rich with nutrients for their plants, and they take pride in caring for their plants and animals living in our garden.

If you've thought about getting your children involved in gardening, we've provided some information about what they learn at school each week during spring gardening to help you extend what they've learned into your own gardening experiences and to help any new readers of our blog learn a little about how you can bring some Montessori ideas into your own garden:

Week 1 - CLEANING/PRUNING:  Clean out the garden and do any required trimming.

  1. Trim plants and remove any plants that may not have survived.
  2. Once the flowering bulbs have bloomed by early April, we remove the bulbs and dry and store them for next fall to make room in our small garden. You can also leave the bulbs if you have a large garden. 
  3. Cuttings are added to the spring compost bin, which was started with fallen leaves just a few months ago.

Week 2 - COMPOST: Composting is a great example of how recycling makes things new again. It teaches the children about the lifecycle and they become more aware of the fact that things have more than one use.

  1. We loosen the soil prior to having the children mix the compost into the soil in the garden area. The garden is now ready for spring plantings. 
  2. A favorite activity is making new compost. Leaves form the base of our new compost by emptying them into the compost bin, filling the bin to the brim.  They quickly disintegrate to make room for new contents. 
  3. Lots of water in the compost bin is good at this stage, as it speeds up the decomposition process. 
  4. Any cuttings, annuals, and lunch leftovers such as bits of fruits and vegetables are collected daily and added to the bin.
  5. We also add a bag of soil to the bin to help with decomposition, and a few worms are added as well.

Week 3 - PLANTING:  We include plant seedlings, vegetables, and herbs.  Child-sized gardening tools are provided to each child to promote independence and reduce accidents.  These tools can be found at Target or any local store in the early spring. 

  1. Purposefully show the children how to hold the tools and to dig a place for their plant in the soil. 
  2. Earthworms are essential in our garden – their waste (called castings) are a form of fertilizer. We have a container for making castings and then add it to our garden each year.  The children are fascinated by this process.  Castings are added to the soil after the hole has been dug, then we place the plant on top of the castings and gently cover the roots with soil.
  3. We teach the children how to water their plants gently with a beaker or small watering can, near the base of the plant as to protect their leaves and flowers.

Week 4 - MULCHING:  We begin mulching by explaining to the children that mulch is made from old trees that have died and been chopped up.  We use old trees because the nutrients that were part of the tree when it was living are used to feed the new plants. Mulch acts as a blanket in the winter and as a filter for the spring rain so that the nutrients get to the roots of the plants. 

Small buckets are used for this activity (margarine tub sized). A wheel barrow is used to hold the mulch and the children fill their buckets with the mulch.  The mulch is gently emptied out and spread around the base of the plants by hand.  The children often repeat this process several times.

Week 5 - WATER…water…water…and water some more: 

Use small watering cans or beakers to help the children learn to control where they are pouring, keeping the water around the base of the plants rather than pouring it on top of the plants or flowers.  At CHMS, the children can water the plants while they are outside for playtime as well.  If the watering activity is available during playtime, we fill a large bucket with water and the children know that they can use the beakers to transport water around the garden to the areas that need it.

Week 6 - FEEDING:  While working in the garden each week, we encourage responsibility by having the children to help take care of their habitat garden by rinsing out the water bowls, humming bird feeder, and completely emptying the bird food containers.

  1. Seed is poured into the bird feeder. 
  2. Fresh hummingbird water is poured into the hummingbird feeders. 
  3. Suet is places into the suet holders. 
  4. Water bowls are filled with fresh water. 
  5. The butterfly dish is filled with fresh sand and stones and filled to the sand level with water to provide a place for butterflies to rest and drink water without drowning. Grapes can be added, but that can also attract bees.

So now you are ready to let your little ones get their hands dirty! We have additional information in our Gardening Curriculum guide in the office if you're interested.