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DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET dismiss the child’s conclusion. Hands-on experience with gardening is cru- cial to the young child’s understanding of scientific concepts, and the best approach is to view it as research. Some plants will not grow well, while others will flourish. Some will become bug infested or be devoured by rabbits and squirrels. This is all part of the process of investigation. Our role as teacher is to guide children so that these seemingly unsuccessful experiments become meaningful learning opportunities. Dying or half-eaten plants often leave children with many questions, such as “What happened to the lettuce?” or “How can we get rid of these slugs?” As adults, we often have answers handy and offer them quickly to children. But we pro- vide a better learning experience for children when we let them lead by asking them to create some sort of hypothesis: “You know, that is a very good question. What do you think hap- pened to our lettuce? Have you seen any visitors in this part of the garden lately? What do you think might have happened?” Allowing children to make predictions adds to their learning. Once children have given it some thought, you can discuss ways to verify their predictions: “Would you like to set aside some time tomorrow to sit quietly and observe the vegetable garden to see if you are right?” or “Maybe you could interview the other teachers and children to see if they have seen any creatures in this part of the garden.” Once the children have more experience conducting these types of projects, you can simply ask, “How do you think we could find out more about what has been going on with the lettuce?” The child’s response will provide information about his developmen- tal level and problem-solving abilities. Be willing to take things slowly. Observe the children. Cherish the time it takes to get down to the children’s level, nose to nose with a dandelion, if nec- essary. Stop to see what has caught the children’s attention. Focus their atten- tion on new sights and sounds. Your role is a crucial one because children are very sensitive to what is important to adults. If the natural world is important to you, it will become important to the children. Keep in mind that a sense of joy should permeate the gardening experience. If gardening becomes a set of chores, the children will back off, and your project will fail. If your garden is very large, the children will not be able to do all the work. We realized early on that parents and staff would need to find time for weeding because our garden was so large. The children did enjoy weeding, and they did pull weeds, but they were never forced to do so. It was treated as an enjoyable activity. Don’t worry if not every child participates in the work or shows a great deal of interest in gardening. The children will benefit from simply being near the 16  •  Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL