Using the Garden as a Classroom

Sunflowers reach their full height in 8 to 10 weeks but create a cozy bit of shade well before then.
JANE POWELL | Courtesy photo

Reading, writing, and arithmetic — oh, if homeschooling was that easy. Today, there are Zoom meetings, chat groups, restless kids and exhausted parents. Maybe spending time in the garden is just what everyone needs.

I think we can put a spin on gardening to make it part of the academic schedule. Yes, science, art, physical education and the all-important recess are part of gardening.

Kids love sunflowers. They grow tall and have bright colors, plus they make the perfect tent. Pick a sunny spot and map out your tent shape. Do you want a semicircle or triangle? Plant your seeds about an inch deep in the outline of your shape and remember to plant wide, leaving a 6-foot center in the middle.

Together, you and your junior gardeners can water and watch for seeds to sprout which will be in about 7 to 10 days. As the stalks grow, it is fun to add morning glories which will climb the stalks and grow to create a roof.

All that is left is to put a blanket inside your tent and let the kids enjoy the new space they helped create. Sunflowers will reach their full height in 8 to 10 weeks, but the space will be cozy and can be enjoyed well before then.

Maybe that’s too ambitious and you need more immediate results.

What about art class? Gather a few clay pots and paints, then let everyone’s creativity take over. Give the kids a choice and let them pick what seeds to plant. Herbs, flowers … the only limit here is the size of the pot. Science comes in with learning the right levels of watering needed and deciding if sun or shade is required.

This hand-crafted planter might also be a good add-on to a Mother’s Day gift. Bonus points if dad “plants” a little jewelry in the pot for mom.

Another fun art project is painting stones to place in the garden. I love the photos of shapes created from rock placements — flowers, dragonflies, maybe even initials made of a series of painted rocks tucked away in the garden.

In the past, we have talked about pizza gardens and fairy gardens. If you would like to take a look back at those ideas, visit

Still looking to make the science connection? It’s all there on the plant label with seed germination times, weeks until harvest, soil moisture levels, hours of sun needed and planting zones.

Gardening zones — that’s science and geography! Depending on your student’s age, this can be an overview or quite in-depth. Heck, you can even discuss gardening by the moon cycles. The “Old Farmer’s Almanac” is a wealth of information.

Do you have a picky eater? Give them a chance to plant what they love to eat. Grape vines, a blueberry bush, maybe even strawberry vines. Sure, it takes time, but for now we’re not going anywhere.

Gardening gets everyone moving. Pulling weeds, spreading mulch or digging a hole are all ways to use our muscles. It’s easy to find child-sized garden tools.

Even if it’s just scooping potting soil into a new pot, it’s fun to get dirty. A great idea from years ago: A friend bought an inexpensive pack of plain white T-shirts for the family and let the kids paint and dig with no worries of harming their good clothes.

It might be fun to plant a tree and mark its growth with annual photos. Imagine looking back in 10 years to see how your family has grown and how the tree or bush has matured.

Not living in your forever home? You can do the same with a potted plant. There are several trees, like fiddle leaf fig, umbrella or an indoor palm, that will grow and be part of your lives for years.

The great thing about the garden is it’s not school work at the computer. It gets the family up and the blood circulating. This all sounds good, but as a parent, if gardening is your solitude I understand.

Fee-fi-fo-fum! Maybe for today, reading “Jack and the Beanstalk” is all the family gardening you can handle. Whatever your age or the reason you garden, I hope you have fun and begin a lifelong love of gardening.