Cultivating Plants and Your Child’s Literacy Skills

In spite of the lingering chill, the daffodils and tulips are pushing up out of the ground and lilac leaves are budding. It’s time to garden. Including your children in planning and executing your garden, whether floral or vegetable, will not only expand their knowledge of science, but it can motivate them to read and write.

  • Share your mail-order gardening catalogs with your children. Discuss the photographs of the various plants and take turns reading the plant descriptions aloud to each other. Note the details of the plants, their height and growing seasons, and explain the temperate zones for plant growth to your child. Discuss what plants will work well in your garden.
  • Discuss your family gardening plans with your kids. Do you want to create or add onto a vegetable garden? Would you like to try to duplicate a colonial herb garden? Do you want to place some flower beds in the front of your house? Would you like to try a window box garden on your apartment balcony? Be open about how much money you have to spend on a garden. Your kids might surprise you with ideas on how to cut costs.
  • Once you have some ideas, go to your library and/or local bookstore and find books on gardening that you and your children can share and read aloud together. Look in both the children’s and adult section. Tweens and teens will be ready for adult books on gardening. Gardening books can help you take your plans from idea to reality.
  • Start a family garden sketchbook/journal. Design your family garden with your children and have them illustrate the plans in full color in the journal. Suggest that they label all the plantings. Show them how to plan a garden by plant height and growing season. Have them list the plants you already have and list the plants you will need to purchase. Do the same planning for herb and vegetable gardens. Keep notes in your gardening journal and planting diary as your garden plans progress.
  • Have your kids help you plot your garden in your yard. Use sticks and twine to decide where your flower, herb, or vegetable beds will be located. Have your children make labels for all the beds so you will know where to plant.
  • Dig and plant your garden as the planting schedule dictates. Have the kids take photographs of the garden’s progress to add to your journal. You can make a schedule for weeding and watering and keep it in the journal. Suggest they each make comments, notes, and drawings in the journal as the garden progresses.
  • If you are creating an herb or vegetable garden, you and your kids can look through magazines and cookbooks, collecting recipes you would like to try when the fruits and vegetables are ripe and ready to eat. If you are creating flower gardens you can collect craft ideas, as well as ideas and suggestions for floral arrangements and wreaths.
  • There are many picture books and novels for young people with garden related themes, from Sarah Stewart’s and David Small’s Caldecott Honor Book, The Gardener, to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel, The Secret Garden. While your garden is growing, have fun reading gardening themed stories aloud to your children.
  • For terrific book suggestions about gardening for kids, and for books that will help you garden with your children, go to the Elisabeth C. Miller Horticulture Library website, brought to you by the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington.

Great Gardening Websites for Kids

Kids Gardening, created by the National Gardening Association.

The Great Plant Escape, created by the University of Illinois Extension.

Environmental Education for Kids, created by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. This site includes an informative article for young people titled “Composting with worms.”

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance