Gardening & Homeschooling
by Dianne McLean
Plant a garden, watch it grow. That’s usually one of the top 10 activities that new home educators think of doing as an activity with their children. Home education takes patience and nurturing, as does a garden. The two go hand in hand. You learn a lot about life when you grow a garden.
Where does one start to have a truly successful garden in the southwest? What should you plant? How do you keep pests and weeds out and make it thrive? How can we tie home education into a garden? Home education is about doing things unconventionally, with the ultimate goal of learning more about something than we knew when we started, and the surprising results of learning more about something else than we initially planned. It’s a humbling experience, and you can get your hands pretty dirty at times. Confused? Once you start your garden, you will understand. In the meantime, try to bear with us as we mesh life’s little lessons into a garden unit study.
Invest time to prepare and plan out your garden. If you don’t already know just where the sun rises and sets and where the wind blows in your yard, you may have to take a couple of days to chart these things. Shade is an issue in the southwest, so track how many hours of intense sun the different parts of your yard get. The garden does not need to be in a showy place, you may find that behind the garage is the ultimate location.
Invest time to observe your children too. Record what time of day they are most responsive to critical thinking, when it is best to give them more relaxed reading assignments, and when it is best to just let them play and discover. Pay close attention to things that could have an adverse affect on their ability to learn – such as junk food and distractions from video entertainment. We all know that foods with preservatives can cause symptoms of many neurological disorders – so balance your child’s intake of food with healthy fruits, grains, and vegetables. All of this takes patience - it does not happen in a day, a week, or any set time.
If space in your garden is a problem, consider going vertical. A mobile cart with various levels is ideal, planting certain things on each level that compliment each other. Soil is another consideration that requires attention before you plant anything in the ground. Many southwestern gardeners are finding that raised beds provide much more control over the dry desert soil. If you build boxes, you will need to get wood and nails and be familiar with carpentry tools. Then just fill the box with potting soil. Container gardens will work in the desert, but watering should be more frequent, so be sure to set up a good system. Water and sun are what makes plants grow – so you will need to find balance in both. The best thing you can do in the southwest for any garden is to put the watering on timers, and timers with a backup battery are even better. In places like Arizona, you can lose or damage an entire crop by skipping just one day of watering.
If your child does not drink water throughout the day, he or she can get dehydrated and tire easily. See the connection?
Drip systems are inexpensive and easy to assemble, but remember that water dehydrates fast so to get really good watering, set up the drip to activate at least 3 times per day. You will want to have a mix of potting soil and peat or something that holds water. Decide early if you want to use pesticides or go organic – don’t think you are immune to bugs. Lady bugs are essential to eating aphids and other damaging pests, you can order them online. Don’t wait until your plants are in and being eaten to put pest control measures into place.
Move your child’s working space around as needed to fit their needs. Some like to work in a big open space, others prefer to cuddle up in a corner. It takes time to find the perfect base for your child’s workstation. Eventually most home educators try some sort of system to keep order in their day. From chore charts to elaborate schedules and planners; from earning little trinkets or t.v. time to fancy reward systems – parents have tried them – and different things work for different people. Balancing several children can be challenging for some, especially if there are infants or toddlers involved. Many parents enlist the help of older siblings to help teach younger children, and they cross teach and do unit studies to keep from being pulled in different directions all day. Everything is not going to be perfect, expect to find the weaknesses in your children and there will be days when chaos reigns. Wait for them to thrive in a few things, before you introduce too many objectives. Join some online groups and forums to discuss the various methods other moms use to avoid these little setbacks.
Organic gardeners will plant marigolds, nasturtiums, onions, garlic, and other herbs as natural pest control. It’s a good idea to get
these going first, make sure they are thriving, before you plant your other vegetables. You can get a nice salad garden in an 8x4 foot box. Lettuce generally produces faster, so plant this last. Planting such items as tomatoes, basil, mint, carrots, bell peppers, chives, garlic, edible flowers such as marigolds and nasturtiums, and cucumbers, before you put lettuce in the ground, will give good variety
and coordinated production. You may want to buy plants that are already started from a good garden store, or start from seed. Just be sure to read the germination times to coordinate your harvest when you want it. Most importantly, don’t set your expectations too high - a garden is achievable in the desert, but it takes patience and it’s a learning experience.
Don't get frustrated, just plan it out and do it, one day and a little bit at a time - and don’t set your expectations too high. Have you made the connection yet between home education and gardening? As you begin your home education journey, simultaneously plant a garden. Each time you face a challenge in home education, go out to your garden and remember how much time and patience it takes to see progress. Why should our children take any less time to adapt to home education than a seed takes to sprout? With a little forethought and careful planning your home education journey will yield results as long as you nurture with patience, love, and of course humility.
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