There are a lot of educational activity books out there and being a part of the kid’s education and activity community I am lucky to know many of the authors. I am so proud of Cathy James whom you may already know from her blog Nurture Store. We have been friends and colleagues for years. And when she asked me if I would share her book, The Garden Classroom, with my readers I didn’t hesitate to say of course! Cathy is a homeschooling mom and one of the areas of her blog I have long admired are all her outdoor ideas for learning, it was no surprise to me when I found out that was the subject of her new book The Garden Classroom: Hands-On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art.
Cathy agreed to sit down and share some of her wisdom about teaching and inspiring learning about the outdoors with us today. We also have a sneak peek at the book down below. It’s gorgeous!
A lot of parents talk about having a hard time getting their kids outside to play. Do you have any tips for parents who are struggling to get their children to go outside and explore?
With any activity, I’d always start with the child themselves. Look at what they’re interested, and then involve them in finding a way to bring that interest outdoors. Favorite toys can come outside with you. They can set up interesting play areas, such as dinosaur worlds, fairy garden, and dens, to have lots of fun outside. The pride and joy you get from picking and eating your own homegrown food is so satisfying. So having a go at growing some of your own food can be a great enticement to head outside.
In The Garden Classroom, you cover all different subject matters but which area of learning is your favorite to tackle in your garden?
I love doing math outside. It’s not a subject either of my girls naturally gravitates towards, and both of them have found standard ‘classroom’ style math a challenge. But when we head outdoors, it’s so different, and it’s a joy to seem them smiling while they learn. The garden offers great opportunities to do practical math skills. Like constructing bean frames or dividing seeds between the number pots you have. And we also enjoy heading outdoors for structured lessons. Using leaves and pebbles to work on math facts for example. And just generally being out of the traditional classroom and in the fresh air makes my learners happy.
I live in Western Washington, USA which is known for gray drizzle much like England is. Do you have any tips for dealing with the wet, cold, and dreary days in the garden? What about snow?
It’s so beneficial to keep going outdoors in less than perfect weather. As you say, we have a lot of gray days here, and if we let that stop us playing outside, we’d spend way too much time stuck indoors. Suitable clothing makes such a difference. We make sure everyone – perhaps especially me! – is wrapped up warm. And we often bring along a warm drink and a nice treat like a cookie to refuel and keep spirits up! And you can really embrace the weather – jump in puddles when you get them. Try painting outdoors when it’s raining to see the effects it creates. Use spray bottles filled with paint to create snow art. The story stones activity in the book is perfect to do around a warming campfire.
For beginner gardeners eager to just grow something which type of seed packet do you suggest they grab? Any foolproof options to avoid disappointed kids?
Something reliable, that germinates easily and grows quickly is a great place to start: radish, cut-and-come-again lettuce, nasturtiums. There are some really fun egg heads and tin can hair salon activities in the book which are perfect first projects, using grass or garden cress seeds. Sunflowers are my favourite, though. As they amaze children with their height and grow almost before your eyes, so the children have something new to notice each day.
How can readers living in apartments or other dwellings without a garden use or learn from your book?
You can still have a really rich connection to nature even without your own garden. I live in a city and our space is tiny. So I’ve made sure to include lots of projects in the book for those of us with little or no outdoor space. You’ll find the ideas like the egg heads and the indoor meadow work just as well in an apartment. There are lots of math, science and literacy ideas that make use of natural materials. They’ll give your children that hands-on learning and connection to the outdoors. Even if you’ve had to borrow materials from the park – or even relocate your learning to the park itself. Everyone can grow something. And by doing so you’re offering your children such a rich opportunity to benefit from a connection to nature.
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Ready for the sneak peek?
Get your copy here —>The Garden Classroom: Hands-On Activities in Math, Science, Literacy, and Art