27 Jun 2016, Catherine Gaunt
Giving young children real hands-on opportunities to garden – and to enjoy the taste of the vegetables they grow, and the fun of the height of their sunflowers – is an important summer activity. Real digging in raised beds, with garden spades and forks that make the digging real ‘work’ that produces results, is fun and satisfying for young children. Turning the soil and finding stones, worms, bugs and grubs is an experience that provides opportunities for endless questions and conversations. The physicality of digging provides a satisfaction in itself, and digging for planting creates expectation and responsibility.
The ‘doing’, the real life action, is so important for little children. As Maria Montessori observed, ‘The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.’ It is in action that new ideas begin to emerge and ideas connect together to develop further thinking.
Gardening – growing both flowers and vegetables – requires patience too; seeds planted in the morning will not be sprouting by lunchtime; bulbs planned in September won’t flower the next day; and as the cat in Jasper’s Beanstalk discovered, sometimes the waiting is too much! And there are times when the reality of gardening is hard to bear – I recall the utter despair of a nearly three-year-old when she realised one Monday morning that over the weekend the slugs had eaten her sunflower seedlings, leaving a few short stalks.
‘Naughty slugs,’ she said – as little tears filled her eyes. But a few days later she watched, with fascination, as a slug clung onto some chives – and she asked, ‘Are his ears on those stalks – can he hear us?’ The loss of the sunflowers gave way to a fascination in this slimy form as it moved slowly through the herb bed.
Not all gardening is successful in terms of produce, but it offers opportunities to open young minds to the earth and all its riches. Digging in the soil and working with others to a purpose offer something that can never be realised indoors; and planting, watering and picking provide an experience of some of the continuities of life. There is still time to get growing and, as Montessori wrote, ‘The essential thing is to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.’