Science and economics in kids’ gardens

Sabin, Davis, Hetrick, Anderegg, Macalady, Walker, Darling, and Katers

Life is about choices and human decision-making. Science is discovery and learning how things work. Young children can learn about both through gardening. When children garden a little patch of soil or container no matter how small, they need to make choices. When they read about possible plants or listen to adults explain what grows best in light during a short growing season, they are learning to make decisions that have economic consequences. Every decision has an opportunity cost. If I choose to plant peas, I may not be able to plant something else. There is only so much available. Life is like that.

The science of plants requires learning what makes them grow and what kills them. They need good rich garden soil with lots of nutrients, light, enough water and red wiggly worms. Otherwise plants will wither, be sick and possibly die. Then there are bunnies and deer among other pests.


Gardeners recommend starting small and early with young children. If this is the first time, find a book like “Easy Peasy: Gardening for Kids” by Kirsten Gradley. If you like You Tube, search for how to grow a specific plant rather than gardening in general. Successful gardeners like to share advice.


Start small. Children enjoy gardening in containers especially when plants are easy for them to keep alive. Flowers like petunias, pansies and marigolds are colorful and very hard to kill. Choose some plants for quick results and seeds for learning. You can mix some vegetables with the flowers.

Vegetables are a bit harder and require larger pots than annual flowers. Tomatoes ( a seedy fruit) grow well in 5-gallon buckets. Peppers will grow in containers about 8 inches in diameter and 10 inches tall. Carrots need 12 inches for their long roots. Other plants are beans, peas and small sunflowers. Read the seeds packets with children and help make choices.

Containers filled with plants like mixed lettuce seeds are a good way to start young children gardening. Choose several large pots. Mix small seeds with a little soil. Fill pots with potting soil (not garden soil), plant seeds and water gently. Cover the pots with plastic wrap secured with a large rubber band until seeds start sprouting. Then move the pots into the sun.

Plants need just the right amount of water and fertilizer. Teach children not to drown plants in mud nor let them wilt. Water is taken in through the roots, not the leaves. The soil should make a moist crumbly ball. Children can stick their finger in the soil to test for moisture and then wash their hands. Children may not like to eat lettuce yet, but they will enjoy cutting fresh lettuce for meals.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Grandparents Teach, Too is a non-profit organization of elementary and preschool teachers from Marquette, Michigan. The writers include: Jan Sabin, Mary Davis, Jean Hetrick, Cheryl Anderegg, Esther Macalady, Colleen Walker, Fran Darling, and Iris Katers. Their mission since 2009 is to help parents, grandparents, and other caregivers of young children provide fun activities to help prepare young children for school and a life long love of learning. They are supported by Great Start, Parent Awareness of Michigan, the U.P. Association for the Education of Young Children, Northern Michigan School of Education, the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum and the Northern Michigan University Center for Economic Education.


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