Thursday, September 26, 2013

What Children Learn in the Garden

Gross Motor 
  • Hauling dirt, compost, mulch
  • Digging 
  • Moving plants 
  • Weeding
  • Picking produce 
Health Knowledge
  • Good/not-so-good foods 
  • Need for exercise 
  • Clean air 
  • Clean environment 
  • Clean hands & bodies
  • Bacteria in the environment 
  • Nutritional value of different foods 
  • Which foods are good for what parts of your body

Here's what I came up with in about 10 minutes last night. 

Environmental Stewardship: 
  • We need to keep our water and soils clean
  • Some plants may not be around if we don't collect and plant their seeds
  • We need the insects 
  • We have to be careful with chemicals so that bugs, plants and people won't be hurt
  • How to keep animals out of the garden without hurting them
  • The natural world is important to protect

Farming/Gardening Skills:
  • How to germinate seeds
  • How to plant, weed, cultivate, amend soil, crop rotation, etc.
  • How to collect and store seeds
  • Companion planting
  • Pest control
  • Different plant needs

Self Reliance:

  • Ability to provide food and natural products for yourself and others
  • Life cycle of plants, animals and insects
  • What lives in the soil
  • Decomposition
  • Biomes
  • Plant physiology
  • Common and scientific plant names
  • Pollination
  • Plant classifications
Environmental Science
  • Composting
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle
  • Environmental awareness
  • Insect identification
  • Insect anatomy
  • Pests vs helpers
  • Bug/insect classifications

  • Weather
  • Weather patterns
  • Cloud formations
  • Temperature, rainfall and wind assessments
Scientific Method
  • Predicting - What will happen if we give this one extra water?
  • Discussing - Why do you think that is? What if we give it too MUCH water?
  • Experimenting 
  • Discussing results
  • Comparison to other experiments - Did the water make more of a difference or less of a difference than adding compost?
  • Comparison of size, shape, color, height, weight, growth, etc.
  • Classification of plants, insects, animals, seeds, produce, etc.
  • Counting seeds, plants, rows, produce, rainfall amounts, etc.
  • Economics of how much we save by growing our own food and why - shipping, labor, etc.
  • Estimation of how much items weigh, how much water they need, how much rainfall we had, etc.
  • Equations - If we have 4 blueberry plants on this side, and 4 blueberry plants on that side, how many do we have in all? If we have 4 rows of 4 bush beans, how many do we have in all?
  • Graphing of temperature, rainfall, plant growth, weekly circumfrence growth of  a pumpkin, etc.
  • Measurement of rainfall, shadows, height, weight, circumference, pounds of produce, etc.
  • Geometry - shapes in the garden, building boxes, paths, etc. 
  • Statistics - Did we get more or less beans than peas? Was it a LOT more, or a little more? If they took up the same amount of space, which one is the better producer? Which one should we plant more of next year? - YES, the one we LIKE THE MOST!
  • Time - tracking the sun across the garden, seasons, planning, plant growth, cycles
  • Tracking growth, production, chores

Fine Motor  
  • Planting seeds and plants 
  • Weeding 
  • Picking produce 
  • Collecting seed 
  • Picking up bugs

  • Awareness of even the smallest element in the environment
  • Seeing butterflies, bees, colors, shadows, sunbeams, changing shapes
  • Feeling the wind, the many plant textures, soil vs. clay
  • Hearing the birds, insects, leaves rustling in the wind, mulch crunching with each step
  • Tasting the many flavors of herbs and produce
  • Smelling the herbs, soil, flowers, produce

  • Talking about their observations, ideas, experiments
  • Educating and advising the younger children
  • Discussing and negotiating about chores and responsibilities
  • Asking questions, explaining to others
  • Plant markers
  • Seed packets
  • Graphs, charts, instructions
  • Plant names & parts
  • Insect names & parts
  • Gardening terminology
  • Discussion vocabulary
  • In the dirt with sticks
  • Drawing pictures of plants, insects, animals, ideas
  • Plotting out the garden
  • Observations, graphs, notations
  • What to plant
  • Where to plant
  • What to harvest for lunch
  • What to do with what we harvest
  • Who gets to do what when
  • Waiting for seeds to germinate
  • Waiting for plants to grow
  • Waiting for produce to mature
  • Waiting for our turn
  • The garden must be watered
  • The weeds must be pulled
  • The produce must be collected
  • The seeds must be collected

Team Work
  • Working with others to plant, harvest and care for the garden
Work Ethic
  • Doing your job, even if it isn't the job you wanted
  • Working with your group, even if you would rather go play
  • Handling your responsibilities with a good attitude
  • Crafts for the garden - stepping stones, signs, totems, sculpture
  • Crafts from materials collected from the garden
  • Painting and drawing about the garden

  • Names of colors
  • Comparisons of colors
  • Color changes
  • Observation of light vs. shadow
  • Color changes in various lights
  • Reflections
  • Rainbows
  • Light on different textures
  • Wiggling of a worm
  • Nodding of a sunflower head
  • Wind bending a tree
  • Falling apples
  • Floating of a butterfly
  • Dancing through the garden
Above all they learn...

of which, they are a part.

Follow Connie -'s board Plants / Garden Theme on Pinterest. Tags: preschool, garden, gardening, pre-k, home, child, children, kids, kid, daycare, care, theme, unit, math, language, science, sensory, movement, senses, five, 5 senses, 

Harvest Time - Marinara & Salsa

It's been rainy and muddy, and we have all been struck with hand, foot & mouth disease. Ugh! So the garden has been neglected for the past week. 

With the heat of summer, the garden was just bursting with goodies this morning that we needed to pick ASAP!

So, all hands on deck for harvesting!

We got a nice haul of an assortment of peppers and tomatoes, an acorn squash, beans, some cantaloupe and watermelon.

Tomatoes, however, were the agenda for the day. 

I do not seed my tomatoes prior to cooking. If that is your preference, please do so. While my marinara recipe is chock full of fresh herbs, dried can be used. As with any recipe, use what you like, what you have, and do it the way you want. Only in baking does one need to follow a recipe fairly exact.


I blanched the tomatoes...1 minute in boiling water, remove with a large slotted pasta spatula, and place into cold water.

You can really pack them into the pot.

If you cut the stem end off, then they just smoosh out of their skins easy peasy. 

I thought it would be a great sensory experience and a way for them to participate. For some reason, my non-squeemish kiddos wanted NOTHING to do with this process.  

Most of these are San Marzano tomatoes, evidently the best for marinara, if the current ads for Olive Garden are to be believed. Plus, I did check into it before I decided which to plant this year, and got the same info.

However, there are also a couple Better Boy, some cherry tomatoes and Romas in this lot. To ensure the salsa wouldn't be too juicy, I ran my immersion blender through some and set them in a colander over a bowl, covered, in the fridge to drain for the rest of the day. The rest I put in the crock pot on low for the marinara.

After nap, we collected the rest of our ingredients...

Garlic! This elephant garlic was given to me by my grandfather 20 years ago. It just keeps growing.

We gathered some larger cloves and re-planted the baby ones.

What does it smell like? "ONION!"
Close enough!

The garden is intended for extensive learning and to be a sensory explosion.

Since we have them, we just collected all the Italian-type herbs we grow that I thought would go well together. I had already collected basil yesterday, and we added...

Thyme and flat-leafed parsley,


and rosemary.

Since they usually experience one plant at a time as they explore and forage, it was good for them to get a chance to feel and smell them as a group. A totally different sensory experience.

Many children are overwhelmed when they smell fresh herbs, but these children have been around them since birth, so to them, it's familiar and welcome.

I tossed our herbs and garlic into the crock pot.

Our onions didn't survive this year, so that was the one veggie that I purchased that went into the marinara. I chopped it, one of our smallish chocolate bells, and a small jalapeno that went in as well. 

It all got a whirl of the immersion blender and left to cook on low for about 12 hours, with the lid propped up on wooden skewers to let some of the liquid escape. If you don't want to do this, then drain your tomatoes as I did for the salsa.

Adding the fresh herbs at the beginning led to a very mild, amalgamated flavor to the marinara. This is good for storage, as it allows me to pep up the flavor according to what I will be cooking with it later. If I want more of a taste of rosemary, then I can add that when I re-heat, likewise with any herb. It makes the sauce more versatile. 

I looked at a few marinara recipes and took what I wanted from them and combined them into my own.

The elephant garlic is much milder, so even though it is bigger, it still takes as many cloves as regular garlic.

 6 cups fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
1 rosemary stem, leaves only, removed
3-4 stems thyme, leaves only, removed
3-4 stems oregano, leaves only, removed
1 small jalapeno chopped
1/2 large or 1 small bell pepper chopped
1 large yellow onion chopped
5 cloves garlic 
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed  
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt [may need more]

Place all in a crock pot and blend with an immersion blender. Let cook a minimum of 3 hours on low.

Note: For the most intense flavor, add fresh herbs in the last hour of cooking, and blend again at end of cooking.

We are not allowed to can for child care, but we can freeze. I use my silicone molds to freeze individual portions. Each one holds exactly 1/3 cup. A serving is 1/4 cup, so this provides a little extra. I cover them, put them in my freezer [after digging out room], hit the "QUICK FREEZE" button, and pop them out later. They go into a labeled one gallon freezer bag. I can take out exactly as many as I need, so less waste.


The garlic [not shown, I had to go dig some more up], flat-leafed parsley, jalapeno and onion were all chopped with my Pampered Chef chopper [which I LOVE! These stay sharp and don't break down using them as I do, directly on plates and cutting boards.]

It keeps everything a fine, even consistency, without the ingredients losing their individuality within the salsa. Ree uses her food processor, but I like mine a little more chunky. And the food processor is just such a pain to clean!

I had to buy cilantro, because ours bolted early, and this is what it currently looks like...

The children have been practicing those fine motor skills collecting the seeds for next year.

The salsa came out WONDERFUL!

I made the children chicken nachos, just added some taco spice to the chicken, and smothered them in the salsa.

Mr. G said, "This is the BEST. LUNCH. EVER!!"

It was right up there, anyway.
Tags: garden, gardening, preschoolers, pre-k, child, care, daycare, home, homeschooling, salsa, marinara, fresh, herbs, children, harvest, harvesting, farm, table, food, cycle, 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

7 Skills of Dress Up Play

Our preschool area is under construction, so the older children haven't had access to their  [free-choice activity] dress-up clothes. The toddlers have their own, but they are "safe," i.e. they do not have buttons, beads, ties longer than 6 inches, or are easily broken or have ANYTHING that can be potentially removed. 

So, with it being a muddy nasty day, I decided to combine the two bins and carefully monitor some group dress-up play.

I was continuously reminded of just how many very IMPORTANT skills they practice during 
dress up. 

I've been to centers that had a neat little rack for their token quantity of dress up clothes. A princess dress, a vest, an apron, a couple of scarves and a tie, and three, and only three, it seems at all of them, hats neatly lined up on top. Seriously, they looked like the catalog pic...

and it made me sad.

"Well, we don't want the children spreading germs to one another, or, heaven forbid, LICE!"

We don't have a fancy dancy rack here, because it wouldn't hold all of our dress up stuff, and at the end of play time, who wants to sort everything out to hang up, put on hangers, etc... NO ONE! 

Clean up shouldn't be a looming pall over joyous play. While sorting is a great learning skill, doing so tired and anticipating another activity is usually not that educational for a child. Just frustrating.

So this is what our dress up bins look like. 
Hunting through for treasures is half the fun!

 We have a preschool bin of dress up, a toddler bin, a large trashbag full in storage for rotation, and some outside.

I've got MAYBE $20 invested in everything. It has been obtained through older sibling hand-me-downs, donations, thrift-stores, clearance sales [especially 90% off Halloween!] and garage sales. 

 Here is some of the things they practice 
and learn during dress up...

"But I wanted that princess dress!"
"Well, you can wear it after me."

While it may not seem like a profound conversation, it is for 3-4 year olds. There was no fighting, only conversation. One stated her need, the other responded with reassurance and a time frame.

I don't believe in forcing sharing. I believe it will come naturally as children find value in it.

 "Can you help me?" 

"Can you help me zip now?"


Even though I am right there, the girls look to one another for help, rather than me, first. Since this is usually a free-choice activity, and during their free time I am usually working with the toddlers, they have learned to rely on one another.


Some children simply may not have the resources or parental acceptance to explore all avenues they would like. A little boy in a tutu may not receive the best response in some families. Never mind that children this age are just beginning to have gender identity AT ALL, let alone anything set. Child care/preschool is a place of acceptance to exploration.


For the preschoolers, dress up is often related to dramatic play. They put on an apron when they play in the kitchen area. They put on the princess dresses and the pirate outfits to play royalty. They work together to create dialog and enact a scene.  

"Princes bow and princesses curtsy!" Mr. G stated to the girls, bowing.


While their own clothing may be difficult to get on and off, the larger dress up clothes make practicing these skills much easier. Fine motor, gross motor, logic/reasoning, etc. are all worked during dress up.

Some items are intentionally difficult to get on and off for the preschoolers, so that they work those self-help skills just as much as the toddlers.


Boots go on our feet. Hats go on our heads. Bracelets go on our wrists. Scarves are worn in winter. That hat is worn by construction workers. Look, I'm a chef! 

These are all statements I heard.


Soft feathers, smooth satin, wiry wigs, crispy tulle, sparkly sequins, fluffy furs, stiff leather, are a sensory delight to children. The ability to experience so many different textures through interactive play is just wonderful. 

Constantly, I see children stopping to simply feel one or more textures and assess them. 

Miss H was feeling the outline of a cameo on her dress-up dress nearly the entire time she was wearing it.

If you aren't doing dress up, please do! The amount of learning that takes place during this type of play is simply astounding.

If you would like a fancy dancy rack for your own, here's a wonderful post on how to make one fairly easily and inexpensively. I like the fleur-de-lis pattern she chose to go with Ana White's plan. 

Tags: child, care, child care, dress up, dress-up, daycare, preschool, pre-k, homeschool, homeschooling, home, school, play, dramatic, dramatic play, learning, play, loose parts, make believe,