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Child with watering can

Grow their vocabulary with gardening

9 September 2021 | State Library of Queensland

It’s Spring and for most of Queensland, the flowers are blooming, the grass is growing and it’s the perfect time for you and your little one to be out in the garden before the real summer temperatures arrive. Children love the freedom of being outdoors with you, digging in the dirt, getting muddy, creating things and watching plants grow.

Girl taking photo of plants with phone

Any size garden can inspire a wealth of conversations.

Rich conversations

Gardening provides many opportunities for early literacy as you get your hands dirty together. To get the most impact from your time together, think about the ways you can include gardening aspects that involve instructions and processes as well as your general conversations. Your garden could be a vegie garden in the backyard, a flower box on the verandah, or even succulent pots on a window sill. Any size garden can inspire a wealth of conversations.

Involve children in all the processes of gardening from the design phase, to selecting the plants or seeds you’ll grow; watering, mulching and finally harvesting the produce or picking the flowers. Encourage their enthusiasm by letting them choose what they want to grow. Seed packets provide lots of information and symbols to indicate where they should grow and what they need. You can also borrow some Queensland gardening books from your library and see what’s on offer together and enjoy talking about the pictures.

Explore the entire plant with your little one and talk about the roots, stem, leaves, flowers and seeds as you go.  Explain how seeds come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours and how each grows in a unique way.

You could also encourage older children to keep a garden journal with drawings of the plants or add samples of seeds and pressed flowers. You can move on to more advanced words such as stamen, stigma and taproots.  

Talk with children about the garden tools (and supervised garden safety!) as there’s lots of great new vocabulary there too - the fork has prongs, the secateurs are sharp. Talk about how you dig with a spade but hoe with a hoe! Let them fill the wheelbarrow with leaves or grass they’ve raked themselves.

Turn garden pests into a positive outcome. Talk about how some are safe to touch and some are definitely not! Some are chompers and some are suckers, about how caterpillars are soft and hairy, about how tiny aphids are and about the spiky prongs on grasshoppers feet! Ask children to draw the things they see and help them with labels to learn the types and their parts.

Young boy watering pot plants with elephant watering can

Children love the freedom of being outdoors with you, digging in the dirt, getting muddy, creating things and watching plants grow.

More early literacy opportunities

Other practical ways for your children to grow early literacy with your garden are:

  • making a garden plan to guide your design and labelling the plants in it 
  • identifying the growth requirements on the seed or punnet tags
  • making labels for plants and attaching them
  • researching gardening tips in books or online
Other conversations

Make sure children are involved by asking them lots of open-ended questions such as what’s changed in the garden and what do they think you should do next?  Ask their opinion regularly and listen thoughtfully to their answers with plenty of opportunities to implement their own ideas. 

Physical benefits

Being outdoors in the fresh air and moving around is a great way for children to get the exercise they need. Gardening helps children develop their large muscles by lifting and moving things and to develop their fine motor skills by using the trowel or rake and weeding and picking up seeds.

Emotional benefits

Gardening provides children with challenges, chance to learn coping skills and to find solutions. These opportunities for independent thinking can help boost their confidence and self-esteem. Working together in your garden is a great opportunity to bond with your children and to create your own happy memories.

Your local library

Ask your local public library if they have a community garden or garden events for children. You are sure to find a wide variety of books and other resources on all types of gardens. Visit your local library to find out more.   

Suggested gardening based books for small children:

Amelia Ellicots Garden – Stephen Michael King

Isabella’s Garden – Glenda Millard

The Potato People -  Pamela Allen

The Tiny Seed – Eric Carle


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