Gardening as Advanced Practical Life
Here in Minnesota, we have a shorter growing season and one thing we do to lengthen that season is to start seeds as early as March. This year I've been working on intentional advanced practical life skills for my adolescent. After many years of starting seeds with all of the kids this time of year, for the past couple years he chose to skip activities like this in exchange for his own interests because he had simply done them so many times before. Once we were working on outside gardening,then he would begin to be more involved in the garden again, particularly in the storing and preserving steps. This year, I decided to give him an opportunity to participate more fully in the oversight and planning involved in raising a large family garden.
With minimal support, Aidan planned and laid out the crop rotation for this year (we rotate everything so that it only falls in the same place once every three years) to create our map. He was able to use his own insights into years/locations that particular crops had done well and not done well. I keep records of where we plant everything year to year and how much we pick and preserve, but he had a detailed memory that gave him as much guidance as my records could.
In the past, my records have been entirely on paper but he set up a spreadsheet to keep track of how many seeds we start, dates, how many develop to be transplanted, etc. He decided how many of each seed we would start based on how many plants we would need and how well he thought they would do. He labeled the flats so he would know where everything was. In the end, the only guidance I ended up giving was to remind him to check the packets for which seeds preferred heat and which ones preferred cooler temps so that they would go into the same flat. This way whole flats can be moved if their sunny window gets too warm or too cool.
In addition to doing the planning, I had Aidan take the lead in doing the planting with our little Children's House "class". When I ask him to teach a lesson of my choice, he usually resists but when it is a part of a project under his own ownership he does quite well.
As an aside, one thing that I appreciate about having our house set up with a Montessori approach to environment is that they need me for almost nothing. I was able to sit back, take pictures and start writing this post in my head while they worked. When it was time to open the bag of potting soil, Logan knew where to find scissors. He knew where the pitcher was for water and could reach all of it himself. Aidan asked Lucie to tape the seed packets closed and she was able to get the tape and complete the task entirely independently. Yes they are sitting on the table (not very Montessori for those keeping track), but that is because after 9 years of Montessori homeschooling I have noticed that they always want to be at the big table if an activity involves more than one person so I go with it, looking at their draw to be together at the family table as a greater plus than perfectly sized tables and chairs.
One further note about materials. I admit that I do not use exclusively organic seed and soil when working in the garden outside (I also don't spray or add anything), but I do when we are planting in the house for several reasons. One of the first things Lucie did when the bag was opened was take a big scoop of dirt and stick her nose in to take a big smell and blow dirt in all directions. She did this with a great amount of joy and was thrilled to tell me what it smelled like. If you are working inside the house, particularly on surfaces that you share with food preparation activities please consider keeping pesticides and other yucky stuff out of the soil your children are working with. Many non organic seeds are also pretreated with various herbicides. If you have a strong desire or reason for using treated products, please consider gardening gloves for your child and take care with clean up.
By letting my adolescent take the lead in the early planning and preparation of this activity, we were able to have the same seed starting experience while building in a new level of practical life study. Being a 13 year old boy and always looking for a few more dollars, I think he has designs on offering any extra plants for sale a couple months from now!
Resources From This Post
You may also enjoy reading about Our Botany Scope & Sequence, Winter Gardening & Plant Study, and Photosynthesis Materials. Be sure to check out all of the posts in the Our Montessori Spring Themed Activities at I Believe in Montessori, Welcome to Mommyhood, Uno Zwei Tutu, Montessori en Casa, Montessori Trails, & Teaching From A Tacklebox!