During the month of March we have been learning about Spring and the whole concept of growth, gardening etc. This theme has been particularly enjoyable as an Aistear theme and both I and the children have enjoyed playing and learning about the topic. In the Role Play area we had a Garden Centre, and in place of the sand or water box in the messy play area, we had a Mini Garden.
My intention in setting up the mini garden was that the children would have the opportunity to play at digging, raking, breaking soil, planting seeds, watering, etc. While I had read mentions online etc. of gardens being set up in play areas, I wasn’t actually able to find the details of what people used or how they structured the area. Ultimately, I filled our sand box with compost and laid out a variety of garden tools; trowels, rakes, forks, watering can, soil sifter, flower pots, plant tags; blank and labels for specific varieties; as well as a generous handful of pinto beans (bought in the food section of Tesco and selected for the high quantity of the beans, the price, bean size and colour, and generally satisfactory ‘seedish’ appearance) and some shallot bulbs (selected for their low price and similar appearance to daffodil bulbs as it was too late in the year to buy daffodils). Needless to say, as the children would be planting and replanting these seeds, making sandcastles containing seeds, digging through the seeds, I had literally no expectation or hope that the seeds would DO anything.
For the garden centre I pillaged my daughters’ old garden tools from the back garden (rake, spade, wheelbarrow) and brought in a few pairs of their old wellies, as well as some envelopes with printed seed labels and some signage/ posters that I found online. Coinicidentally, Lidl had a special offer for garden tools that I couldn’t resist, which meant that our props were boosted in the second week. I also picked up a handful of potted plants and the tray they came in, which really helped to set the scene.
The theme was a great success – the children really got on board with the garden centre and began to play in the soil differently to how they would in sand. When the beans began to sprout, to our delight – particularly mine!, the children were really able to pretend that their plantings had grown and they enjoyed it all the more.
To my mind, the best thing about having the garden play area was that the children were free to explore the seeds in a way they wouldn’t have been if we were planting them with the intention of growing something. Had we done that, we would have been looking at a pot of compost for over a week and after that had some green shoots to watch. This way, the children had the opportunity to pick up the seeds as they sprouted – look closely at the way they were growing and compare various seeds with one another. Sure, plenty of them got broken along the way, but that was all part of the learning experience, and by the end of two weeks’ play, there were still dozens of beansprouts that had stayed the course!
After the children left this afternoon, when I started to clear away the garden in preparation for the next topic, I decided on a whim to plant some of the sprouting beans and the few shallots that had shown signs of growth. Fingers crossed we’ll be greeted by a pleasant surprise when we go back to school after the Easter break!