Gardening helps youth apply science and math concepts in fun ways

Gardening presents a wealth of opportunities for youth to apply the science and math knowledge they have gained during the school year.

As summer nears, many families are planting flower or vegetable gardens in their backyards. Gardening presents a wealth of opportunities for youth to apply the science and math knowledge they have gained during their school year. The benefits of gardening are numerous regardless of how big or small efforts may be.

Science can be interwoven throughout the gardening experience. In addition to opportunities to talk about soil with all the nutrients it offers, explore the beneficial insects it houses. Sift through a shovelful of dirt to find worms or other ground dwellers; look at them under a hand lens or microscope. Learning about soil’s acidity level (pH) level is a great opportunity to apply basic chemistry concepts. Explain that plants gets the nutrients they need from soil just like our bodies gets nutrients from the food we eat.

Go one step further to investigate the biology behind “green” initiatives such as composting or rain water collection and utilization. Composting allows children the opportunity to watch things naturally decay; composted material is full of desirable nutrients that can be recycled back into the garden the following year. When setting up a rain collection bucket at the drain spout; measure how much water is collected before using it to water the garden. Help children calculate the economic cost savings of these environmental practices.

Children can put their math skills to work further by measuring garden plots and deciding how many plants will produce enough food for their family. Measure and track the growth of different kinds of plants to see how much they grow at the beginning of the summer as compared to later in the summer. Help youth determine what the total cost is of vegetables they grow versus what they retail for.

Discuss each plant’s environmental needs. Does this plant like a lot of sun or is a shady location better? How much space will this plant require once it is mature? Consider the height of plants when designing flower or vegetable beds. Do these plants like each other? Help youth learn which plants grow well beside each other and which do not. Learn about companion planting and how certain plants, when grown together, help each other repel pests’ therefore increasing yields.

Parents looking for gardening ideas and activities should explore the National 4-H Gardening Curriculum. For a hands-on experience, visit the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden located on the Michigan State University campus or take a virtual tour online.

If working with a limited amount of space, see “Grow successful vegetable gardens in small spaces” for ideas on how to best utilize a small gardening space.

For more information or ideas about 4-H Youth Development contact your local MSU Extension office or visit the MSU Extension Gardening in Michigan website to find answers to your gardening questions.