Garden Schooling: From Small Seeds…

Once upon a time, when dinosaurs were undoubtedly roaming wild in the garden, I had a previous life as a teacher. I loved working with children – and now I’m looking forward to rediscovering my creative side with my own kids (8 and 11) as we enter this rather surreal period of living, working and studying from home.

Nic Wilson - Star Gazing

Science in the skies

Rather than home schooling, I’m hoping to garden school the kids wherever possible, making the most of the spring weather to avoid cabin fever. I’m planning lots of outdoor active projects and hoping to share our experiences as a family studying in and around the garden.

Nic Wilson - Ash Buds

Art and Poetry on ash buds

We’ll be covering a wide range of subjects in the garden – maths, PE, history, science, art, craft, geography, creative writing, reading and much more. Hopefully most of the activities will be suitable for a range of ages and possible to do in courtyards, parks, woods and even on the grass verge outside the house. So even if you don’t have a garden, there should be projects you can do if you have access to a local green space.

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Natural History – bug hunting

We’ll be kicking off garden schooling with a seed sowing challenge. The kids will each have a tray of tomato seeds to germinate on their windowsills. They’ll measure the germination and growth rate of their dwarf tomato plants (one variety each) to see which is speediest and which grows tallest. Later in the season we’ll have blind taste tests to judge each variety on a scale from ‘mouth-wateringly delicious’ to ‘absolutely revolting’.

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Labelling tomato pots

Science: Tomato Germination and Growth

  1. Each child needs a tray or pot for their seeds. We have used our old plastic seed trays which are on about their ninth year, but we also use the cardboard trays from our veggie box fruit. You could also reuse a clean tin or yoghurt pot with holes poked in the bottom, or even a small pot made from newspaper.
  2. Fill the container two-thirds full with peat-free compost and tap down gently. Sow two to three seeds for a small pot and six for a tray. Cover with fine compost (can sieve through a garden sieve or one of the nylon orange bags that contain satsumas).
  3. Water with a fine rose or soak plastic trays from beneath. Label with variety name and date of sowing.
  4. Place containers in a light spot (such as a windowsill) and cover with either a propagator lid for trays or a clear plastic bag kept off the compost with a twig or small wooden stake and secured with a rubber band.
  5. Keep compost moist by misting or watering regularly.
  6. Chart the progress of the seeds – recording the number of days that each takes to germinate. The results can be displayed as a list, diagram, bar chart or graph.
  7. Once each seed has germinated, measure and record its height each day, until it produces the first true leaves (the second set to grow – the first small pair of leaves are the seed leaves.)

Extension Activities

  • Add drawings of the two types of leaves – seed leaves and true leaves – to the growth charts.
  • Try germinating a second set of seeds in a shady spot – which emerges first – the sunny or shady pots?
  • Create a seed packet for your own tomato variety. Come up with an imaginative name and its flavour – is it sweet, tangy, meaty or slightly sharp? Draw a picture on the front of the packet (you could use an envelope) based on these wonderful quirky heirloom seed packet designs from Pennard Plants and write the instructions for sowing and growing on the back. (Use these instructions and other seed packets to help with this.)
  • Make up and cook a recipe using tomatoes to prepare for your bumper harvest later in the year. You could use tinned tomatoes or fresh ones. Perhaps you all love pizza and could learn to make the tomato topping, or experiment with different herbs, spices and oils for a fresh tomato salad or spicy salsa. 
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    Funky Seed Packets from Pennard Plants

Older Students

  • Germinate and grow two or three different tomatoes including varieties with different coloured fruits and cordon/bush varieties. Compare growth rate, fruit taste and harvest size.
  • Research the history of heirloom tomatoes. What are they and how do they differ from hybridised F1 varieties? Write a 300 word policy document for DEFRA putting forward the case for the importance of conserving these heirloom, open-pollinated varieties. More information on how to write a policy brief can be found on the web pages of POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology).

It would be great to share thoughts in the comments – how are you using green spaces and gardens with children at the moment? What activities have been successful and why? What are the biggest challenges and in what curriculum areas would it be helpful to have more ideas?

For updates on the seed sowing challenge and more garden schooling ideas – you can follow the blog below…

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I’ll be back with some more family activities soon, but in the meantime, take care of yourselves and seek as much solace in nature as you can xxx

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