A Garden Project: Ohio University Child Development Center


Created by: amy.c.wolfe

Grade Level: Pre-K

Project Category: Garden

Resource Category: Projects

Project Description: This project describes the Ohio University Child Development Center’s journey of creating a children’s garden at a university lab school for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years garden. The center hopes to encourage those who work with young children to use the outdoor environment not only as a fun place to visit but also as a teaching tool.

The faculty hopes that by reviewing these materials, teachers will:
• begin to feel more comfortable setting up the outdoor environment as a place for young children to explore and experience nature
• begin to collaborate with community organizations such as Master Gardeners, Naturalists, local farmers, farmers markets and local gardening groups to expand the children’s knowledge of nature
• begin to capture the “special” natural outdoor moments that children experience, such as the joy of the first sunflowers first bloom or finding a worm in the compost bile.
• be begun to capture the wonder of the outdoors through gardening.
• have the opportunity to experience the season cycle of the garden and how you can use it with young children.
• help create healthy eating habits for young children and families
• gain insight into how to meet standards through multidisciplinary ongoing projects

Nature is a naturalistic environment that allows children to learn the life cycle, experience the value of life and to explore and seek information in response to their natural curiosity. Howard Gardner’s definition of naturalist intelligence is “the human ability to discriminate among living things as well as sensitivity to other features in the natural world”.

For centuries children have spent large amounts of time outside. They helped their families with the family farm, they walked to school, and they spent time outside playing. Today’s adults are nostalgic for a time when children stayed outside most of the day, went home for dinner and then played outside until the street lights came on.

Today, children’s time is much more structured than in the past. They may have soccer Monday and Wednesday, Art class on Thursday and Music on Saturday. They are preoccupied and distracted by technology and the wide array of entertainment it makes available to them.

Some parents are fearful about allowing their children time and space to explore and play outdoors. Other parents tend to over –schedule, leaving little time for outdoor explorations. Author Richard Louv (2006) who coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” states that over the past 20 years, children are interacting less and less with the naturalistic world. He believes by not allowing children the opportunities for outside play more and more children are being treated for ADHD when really all they may need is place to touch, feel and interact with nature. Playing outside is just not as highly valued in today’s society.

Through gardening with young children, we hope to bring back some of the hands on, magical experiences that young children and families deserve.

Take a moment to reflect on your childhood. What were your outdoor experiences? What did you enjoy? Did you have any magical experiences? Where were they?

Some common ideas include:
• Magical places for young children
• Places where they could dig
• Places where they could hide
• Places where they could play freely without adult interaction
• A place to see things from different perspectives
• A place where they could experience they nature world

Time required to do activity:

Time required to set up:
More than one hour

Time required to clean up:
More than one hour

Space needs:
Any size space can be used for the successful implementation of a garden project, from a plot of outdoor space to simple window boxes or pots in the classroom. Your individual classroom or school layout will dictate the size your garden project can take. Keep in mind, large or small, your garden will provide enormous opportunities for growth and learning across multiple content areas throughout the entire school year, and beyond.

Cost per class of 25 students:
Varies by program and garden size

Items needed and where to get them:
To get started, you simply need a little soil and a seed.
However, the sky is the limit! Consider recycled and donated items as you get started. Items for consideration may include:

• Soil
• Sunlight ☺
• Water, watering cans, etc.
• Pots, garden boxes, recycled containers
• Seeds (variety)
• Plants, flowers
• Gardening tools (shovels, buckets)
• Classroom compost bins
• Rain barrels

Project Instructions:
When thinking of how to break down the steps of our school garden project, it is easiest to think of the 4 Seasons. Each season is important to the planning of the school garden, and different events are happening in each season.

Additionally, teacher and child-facilitated journals are created in each classroom to document experiences. These are emailed to parents and include photos, children’s quotes, etc. Children also participate in a variety of garden-themed experiences to further enhance this experience. Examples include, 2d and 3d art respresentations, writing activities, literacy- based activities, dramatic play experiences, etc. Children’s interests guide the process through an emphasis on an emerging curriculum.

• Trips to the garden with children: What will they remember about the growing season? What will they want to continue/plant again? What does a garden in the winter look like? Why? What are their ideas?
• Dramatic Play scenarios are very important: What do the children do in the winter garden? What stems from their imaginations while in the garden?
• Staff come up with ideas for what we want to do in the garden this year – what to plant, areas to expand, props to use, jobs that are important
• Documenting children’s memories and ideas
• The Garden Committee begins planning in March. The committee begins by discussing what we will be growing and where it will be planted (The map is created and shared with all the classrooms). A date is set for the Spring Garden Work Day, held on a Saturday. The jobs needed to be done before and after the work day are listed. The date and jobs are emailed to the classrooms and then all of the families.
• Early vegetables, like onions, broccoli, garlic, etc., are planted by teachers and children

• Families and Staff take part in the Garden Work Day. The spring jobs, such as putting in the tomato cages, clearing leaves and other debris, making repairs to the fence/gates, etc., tilling areas that need it. Families donate seeds and starts.
• A Planting Signup sheet is created. By the Garden Committee. Classrooms sign up for what they would be interested in planting.
• The Garden is divided up into sections. Each classroom takes on a section that they will care for, weeding and watering. It gives ownership and responsibility to the teachers and children. If there is a reason why a classroom cannot care for that section for any reason, it can be communicated to another classroom. It is a way to frequently check all areas of the garden on a daily or weekly

• Staff and children care for the garden daily. Concepts that are talked about:
➢ Weather: How does weather affect our garden? (Sun needed but can also bring too much heat; rain and when to water; Storms and wind)
➢ Insects can be good and bad for people and plants; why?
➢ Some veggies grow on top of the ground and some grow under the ground
➢ Plants need people and people need plants
➢ Bringing natural beauty inside
➢ Learning how to use plants
➢ Cooperation is needed in the garden,
➢ Gardening can be hard, but rewarding work?
Other concepts for discussion and investigation occur naturally through an emerging curriculum.

• The importance of plants from seed to harvest: seeing it through. We have had the privilege of a year-round school. We can plant seeds and then harvest the veggies. We get to see things go wrong and how that is a part of gardening.
• Dramatic Play: The garden is meant to be a world of beauty, wonder, magic, and adventure. It should make children create an imaginary world.
• The social/emotional aspect: team work, cooperation, helping a friend, responsibility, work ethic, win some you lose some, don’t give up, see it through to the end
• Families are always welcome to visit the garden, even after school is closed and on weekends.
• Cut flowers delivered to Hospice

• The staff must communicate, cooperate, support and negotiate to create this garden for and with children. It makes the staff work together on another level.

The Garden Party!
o The Annual Garden Party is held the first Friday in August, but the planning and preparing starts early. The staff and children decide what they can use in the garden to make the food for guests. Invitations and take-away gifts are created. Art work is selected to be displayed.
o A signup sheet is created for each class to sign up for what food they want to make. It is communicated through email and direct posting what is available.
o Some classroom sign-up to cut flowers for the vases on each table and the food tables
o Parents, Grandparents, siblings, OU Faculty, Community Members, are invited to come to our Garden Party!
o People are impressed that we do not have lots of sugary foods or junk food for our party. We focus on healthy food choices: fresh salsa and locally made chips, whole wheat bread with homemade herb butter, lavender cookies, zucchini muffins, carrot muffins, salads, even onion tart!

• As the season winds down, we talk to the children about what it means to our garden. Colder weather, shorter days, perennials vs. annuals
• The Garden Committee prepares for our putting the Garden to Bed Day. This work day entails composting dead and dying annuals, trimming back perennials, putting tomato cages and other structures and tools away for the season. Areas are raked and tilled, as needed.
• Children and teachers collect seeds/dried plants for collections.
• Children and teachers discuss what they liked; want to do again, what worked well, what might not have worked, why, etc.

Standards Type: Local Standards

Standards Explained:
In Ohio, preschool curriculum is developed to address the standards linked here:


Project work like the garden project has the potential to address standards across content areas in meaningful, developmentally appropriate ways.

Class Management and Safety Issues:
Teachers interested in a project like this need to keep in mind some safety concerns and classroom management guidelines. Care should be taken to design space where children can explore freely with little risk of danger. The environment should be age appropriate.

Children should be taught:
• to use real tools appropriately
• to identify edible verses non-edible plants or ask an adult.
• to stay within the boundaries of the space- a fence might also protect the garden from deer, rabbits, and other hungry creatures.

Teachers can enhance their work in the garden with a little outside help and preparation time. The Child Development Center schedules Garden Work Days where parents, teachers, and community members are invited to work together on garden planting, clean up, and enhancement. Other gardens may use collaboration with local resources and organizations that spend time caring for the garden.

Tags: garden, preschool, project, developmentally appropriate,