Growing Our Homeschool by HomeschoolMagazine


									Growing Our Homeschool

By Chris Oldenburg

Gardening is a mirror of our homeschool journey, both requiring the understanding that
small seeds, heaps of faith, attention, and a dose of humor lead to bountiful harvests. Our
homeschooling adventure is much like the gardens that surround our family home. They are
not always orderly, flawless, or some days even presentable, but they provide us with
opportunities to grow and then we reap beautiful harvests.

My mother instilled in me a sense of appreciation that can come only from the opportunity
to plant, nurture, and watch a treasure blossom. While I didn’t always want to pull weeds
from the bean rows or hoe between the squash plants, I did learn to appreciate the efforts
and rewards of gardening.

So much of life is reflected in a garden, and as I began my new journey in life as a mother,
I found myself going back to my roots. Those lessons from my mother about sowing seeds,
nurturing fragile life, and finding joy in the fragrance and abundance of it all could be said
about gardening, as well as mothering and homeschooling.

In 1976 my grandmother wrote a simple note in a book about gardening and gave it to my
mother: “To Kathy, who proves you can’t take the country out of the girl, even a generation
later.” I received that same book in 2000 from my mother, with my own special note and
the gift of a tradition to pass along to my own children one day. The book has wonderful
chapter titles, such as “The Healing Hoe” and “The Magic Story of Seeds.”

During the ten plus years I have homeschooled my children, I have gone back to those
roots and applied gardening to our core curriculum. As toddlers digging in the dirt at my
toes, the kids carried on conversations with bugs, small stones, and the cloud shapes
above. Gardening with very young children sometimes just means spending glorious days in
the spring sun, sharing secrets with the wind, and turning empty seed packets into treasure
maps, garden flags, and sleeping bags for pet rocks. The weeds may still come, but the kids
will grow as well when they spend time outside, learning to be stewards of the soil and
enjoying the nature that God has provided.

As soon as they were able to walk and dig, the kids wanted their own garden spaces. I have
learned over the years, and through many weed-filled rows, that the smaller the child, the
smaller the gardening space should be. We found an inexpensive and easy method for the
kids to have their own garden spaces and be able to flourish with them. We purchased
sixteen recycled shelving boards from a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $4, and the
kids, their dad, and a few hours in the garage honing measurement and carpentry skills
yielded four bottomless, raised garden beds. Each measures about 3 feet x 3 feet and sits
atop the garden topsoil, 15 inches in height.

The carpentry lessons soon turned into science-filled tasks of researching natural fertilizer
options and recipes for garden filler. The kids all chose their own special blends, many of
which included manure, shredded paper, egg shells, and other compost materials, and of
course wonderful dirt.

These raised garden beds provide so many advantages for the kids. The boxes clearly define
each personal space and are easier to weed, but more importantly, they generate fewer
weeds because the boards create a natural barrier between the mini garden and the
volunteer plants that try to creep right along and snuggle in with the produce.

The planting choices of each child articulate so well their personalities that it is like looking
into a window to their hearts. My oldest son is extremely conscious of family, and his
garden box reflects that. He planted kohlrabi because it is his father’s favorite, onions from
the seeds of his grandmother’s plants, and Brussels sprouts because he heard tales of woe
and giggles about his aunt detesting them at the dinner table when she was a child.

My daughter, a thoughtful and practical child, planted lettuce for our family, as salad is a
regular menu item in our home. The garden box of my middle son has a little bit of a lot of
things, much like his coveted storage box under his bed, and he has also decided to donate
some of his produce to a local food shelf. Then there is my dear, young, artistic child who
sees the world through what must be mesmerizing lenses and therefore planted white
pumpkins—simply because they are unexpected.

One of the most rewarding benefits of gardening with children is growing their pallets for
healthy food choices. My children have repeatedly tried new foods, only because they were
more excited about the growing and harvesting than they were hesitant about the new
textures and tastes. The kids are conscious and aware of the varieties of items in the
produce aisles and at farmers markets and how they might have been grown, as well as
why living in Minnesota does not allow us to produce wonderful mangoes in the backyard.

Four garden boxes have turned into almost a dozen, one of them constructed in secret by
my children and presented to me as a gift. Homeschooling and gardening are intertwined in
our lives, and the parallels are innumerous. Each homeschool, like each garden, is unique in
size and vision. Our homeschools require diligence and energy, and our children reflect the
attention we provide in their education and formation. If we don’t put in the time and
persevere, rarely will our children grow well without us.

Just as we fertilize our gardens with compost and other materials, we provide our children
with the nutrients of faith, love, patience, and the tools with which they can succeed. And
like those garden boxes, our homeschools offer our children their own personal space in
which to bloom, protected from intrusions, yet allowing their own abilities and passions
room to grow.

My homeschooling adventure would simply not be as enriched or rewarding without
gardening, whether it is in the fruit and vegetable gardens with my children’s boxes or my
flower beds, where the children skip through to admire butterflies and my lesser favorite,
snakes. Homeschooling parents, however, do not have to display green thumbs in order to
successfully use gardening in their curriculum endeavors. Gardening reflects a basic
principle of life through which many wonderful lessons can be taught, even without so much
as a fraction of an acre of land. Varieties of books, windowsill gardens in paper cups, and
fluid conversations about growth and development can all be cornerstones of garden
curricula. We reap what we sow, both in our beds of soil and as we teach our children to
grow, flourish, share bounties, and overcome the weeds, and homeschooling allows for the
perfect combination of these elements.

I enjoy my own personal holiday when the first seed catalogue arrives in the mail, somehow
always just in time to save me from feeling that the frozen Minnesota winter will never
cease. On a random day in midwinter, I will savor the pages of color and lose myself in
thoughts of warm soil, sun, and the smell that can come only from freshly turned earth.
Then I get a homeschool mom chill up my spine and an inspiration for a lesson creeps into
my frosty brain. Reading and watching The Secret Garden, studying artists who painted
flowers, and collecting building plans for more boxes and perhaps birdhouses are all
activities that help open my children’s hearts and minds to the beauties of gardens. The
anticipation grows until I do what homeschool moms do: I load the kids into the van and
venture to the library (and sometimes the nursery) to begin another chapter in our

“Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them”
(Jeremiah 29:5).


The Secret Garden

This classic story written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Sandra M. Gilbert is a tale of
children who discover the joys of friendship, the pain of loss, and the definition of family
amid the secret paths and branches of a hidden garden.

Unit Study Ideas for The Secret Garden

• Begin by discussing what it means to have and to keep a secret. Age-appropriate
discussions might include topics such as the differences between fun secrets for birthday
gifts and secrets that might be harmful or dangerous.

• Have your children create their own secret gardens. Give each child a pot to fill with soil
and an assortment of seed packets from which to choose (out of sight from the other
children). Each child can plant the seeds, care for them, and then see if family and friends
can guess which types of seeds are growing in their pots by the look of the seedlings
emerging. See if their guesses change as the true leaves begin to form and telltale signs of
plant types emerge. This is a great lesson for practicing the idea of a hypothesis, with each
child recording his own observations and checking to see if his hypotheses are correct.

• Use paper cups or small pots and have your children prepare Garden Gifts (the kids can
decorate the cups with stickers or markers). Add dirt and choose the seeds of small, yet
hardy, flowers to add to the mix. Place plastic wrap over the top of the cup and secure with
a rubber band. Have the kids prepare a note explaining that they are sharing the joy of
gardening through these Garden Gifts, and all that is needed is to add water, sun, and
attention. These make great holiday gifts or special tokens of appreciation.

• After reading the book either independently or as a group, watch the movie and discuss
observations about the differences, similarities, and opinions of each version.

Seeds, Plants, and Gardens Booklist

Every great unit study in our home is not complete without a few wonderful books. In fact,
reading a good book can be the best way to start a unit study. There are numerous titles
from which to choose, but a few of my favorites are included here, some for each age and
academic ability range. Whether you read aloud or have independent readers, head out
amid the plants and dive into a great book!
Titles for Young Readers and Listeners

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson and Shmuel Thaler

Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole (and lots of other versions about Jack and the Beanstalk)

One Watermelon Seed by Celia Barker Lottridge and Karen Patkau

Dig and Sow! How Do Plants Grow? Experiments in the Garden (At Home With Science) by
Janice Lobb

Sow and Grow: A Gardening Book for Children by Tina Davis

From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

A Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds (Exceptional Nonfiction Titles for Primary Grades) by Jean
Richards and Anca Hariton

How a Seed Grows (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) by Helene J. Jordan and Loretta

Seeds! Seeds! Seeds! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

From Seed to Plant (Rookie Read-About Science) by Allan Fowler

How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas

Oh Say Can You Seed? All About Flowering Plants (Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library) by
Bonnie Worth and Aristides Ruiz

The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds: A Book About How Living Things Grow by Joanna Cole,
John Speirs, and Bruce Degan

The Dandelion Seed by Joseph P. Anthony and Cris Arbo

Berries, Nuts, and Seeds (Take Along Guides) by Diane L. Burns

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Titles for Older Readers and Listeners

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Sandra M. Gilbert

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne
Ashworth and Kent Whealy

Seeds: Time Capsules of Life by Rob Kesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy (beautifully detailed
images of seeds)
The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, Trees, and
Shrubs by Robert E. Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough

Seed catalogues that come through the mail—most are free of charge, have great pictures
and descriptions, and can be used for art collages or labeling purposes.

Chris is the mother of four children: Alexandria, Connor, Aidan, and Ethan, and is supported
on this homeschooling journey by her husband of more than sixteen years, Steve. She
received her degree in Technical Writing and is a freelance editor and writer. Chris can be
contacted at

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in
the March 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine.
Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the
free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

To top