The age range of 2 to 7 is actually quite broad and kids within this age range will have widely diverse pre-existing skills that they bring to your family gardening projects. Developmentally, a lot happens between the ages of 2 and 7.
Rather than speak of the tasks involved in terms of age, it really is more appropriate to speak of them in developmental terms. It is not how many years your child has been alive that matters; what matters is the stages of development he/she has achieved thus far and the types of concepts he/she is, therefore, able to understand.
While there are many theorists who have contributed to the science of child development, KPS4Parents relies on the Piagetian stage model of development for the purpose of sharing a common language centered on developmental milestones that are known to occur in developing children in the same order, though not all exactly at the same pace. Stage theories in child development have their place; while they don’t explain everything, they are useful for giving us language that is not tied specifically to age that speaks to the types of cognitive and communicative processing an individual has mastered.
For example, a 2-year-old is not likely to understand quantitative concepts and one-to-one correspondence. These concepts require an understanding of what it means to have a quantity of something, what it means to have more versus less, and that each item accounts for one of a number of items within the overall quantity of items. As such, children this young are best served by sticking to activities that introduce them to gardening-related vocabulary concepts.
You can tell when children are beginning to master the concept of one-to-one correspondence when they touch objects as they count them. Touching the objects as they are counted seems to be a necessary part of the developmental process of mastering the concept of counting objects.
Putting things into categories and sorting things are also emerging skills between preschool and kindergarten. In fact, the Common Core math standards for kindergarten target one-to-one correspondence, counting, sorting, and categorizing skills. Sorting and counting seeds are excellent activities to engage in with young children to develop these skills.
With kids who are in their early elementary years, the application of this knowledge becomes expected. Kids are expected to write things down that are important to remember, such as which plant was planted in each self-watering bucket container. They are expected to use counting, sorting, and categorizing skills to some productive end.
Having them sort, count, and label seeds, for example, and keep their data in some kind of log is an appropriate task. Having them log each time they top off the reservoirs with water to track your family garden’s water consumption rates is another way they can put these emerging skills to relevant use. The more you can tie these kinds of tasks to real-life situations where they are legitimately needed, the more kids realize their importance.
Early elementary kids are starting to understand basic facts about nature from their science instruction at school, as well. Relating what they are learning at school to their family self-watering container gardening experiences makes the instruction at school relevant to something that they understand, which fosters meaningful learning.
Gardening with toddlers, and those who are experiencing developmental delays that put them functionally on par with toddlers, will have the most benefit if the experience is used to teach language, particularly vocabulary building. Children acquire language and grow to understand their immediate environments by being around other people who are already using language effectively and are already familiar with their same environments. Children model their own behaviors after the examples set for them in their environments.
In a container garden, teaching vocabulary becomes easy because there are all kinds of things to name and label. There are seeds, dirt, cups, buckets, water, plants, building materials, tools, and more! And, they are all used with each other in specific ways which also have names, such as sawing, drilling, cutting, pouring, filling, planting, etc.
Children who have started to explore the relationships that objects have with each other and engage in imaginative play are able to conceptualize the basic foundational concepts of self-watering container gardening, such as how water pours through the PVC pipe into the reservoir of a self-watering bucket container. Physical cause-and-effect relationships start to make sense at this stage. Activities that are oriented towards these concrete understandings will be both engaging (because that’s the kind of activities their brains are naturally looking for) and well-remembered.