Farm and garden activities for preschoolers during spring

Ideas for outdoor spring play and discovery for young children.

Explore nature, gardening and farming in the spring.
Explore nature, gardening and farming in the spring.

Children are naturally interested in animals and plants, and springtime is the perfect season to engage them in science-related experiences in the outdoors. Gardening connects children to where their food comes from, and according to a study completed by Cornell University, increases their interest in eating a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, enhances overall health through physical activity and more nutritious food choices, teaches life skills, expands knowledge, builds a feeling of community connectedness, and increases environmental awareness and stewardship. Michigan State University Extension recommends the following ways to explore nature, gardening and farming in the spring.

Spring hikes

How do we know spring has arrived? Search for signs of spring, such as a robin searching for a worm, fresh buds on a tree branch, bees buzzing in the yard or dandelions in bloom. There are many species of frogs and toads with their own unique calls in Michigan. The sounds of chorus frogs are another first sign of spring and can be heard during an evening walk. “Frogs” by Nic Bishop includes many interesting facts about a wide variety of frogs. The photos are bound to capture your child’s interest and spark conversation.

Seed starting

How do plants grow? Visit a local gardening center to allow your child to choose their own seed packet varieties. Consider the weather and zone you are in before choosing a variety and whether you may need to begin your seeds indoors. Plants that germinate quickly or with larger seeds for small fingers may be better options. Some possibilities include sunflowers, pole beans, lettuces, herbs, cherry tomatoes and wildflowers. “One Bean” by Anne Rockwell walks children through planting a bean. To accompany the book, place several beans in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel. Tape the bag to a window and observe. Soon the seed will germinate and your child can plant it in a small pot or cup, later transferring it outdoors. Just be sure to provide a trellis for the bean plant to climb! And Then It’s Spring” by Julie Fogliano is a truly beautiful book that captures the essence of spring.

The life cycle of a butterfly

How do caterpillars become butterflies? Grow a butterfly garden on your patio or in your yard. Choose varieties of flowers that butterflies enjoy and learn to identify the visitors! Hunt for eggs, cocoons and caterpillars on the leaves. Another option is to purchase a butterfly house and order a cup of caterpillars. Once your caterpillars arrive, you’ll be able to closely observe them over the course of approximately two weeks and then release them to the wild. “Caterpillars, Bugs, and Butterflies” by Mel Boring is a useful resource for identification.

Worms in the garden

How do worms help a garden grow? Search for worms and discuss where and why you might find them in certain places. Once you find some worms, take a closer look at them through a magnifying glass. Does a worm have a top or a bottom? Do they prefer darkness or light? Do they like it wet or dry? Take a container and set up wet/dry or light/dark conditions on either side. Ask your child to come up with their own design and method to set up the experiment conditions. Place the worms in the middle and watch what happens!

Setting up a vermicomposting bin, or a composting system with worms, is a simple method to begin composting and a great way for children to care for the garden and living creatures. “Yucky Worms” by Vivian French provides a fun and interesting glimpse into the world of worms. The University of Illinois Extension has an online, fact-based resource for families on worms called “The Adventures of Herman the Worm.”

Visit local farms or gardens

MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center in Novi, Michigan, offers a beautiful setting to explore 21 gardens, including a children’s garden, a pond, 40 acres of forest and of course the chance to observe farm animals grazing the fields. During spring 2016 they will offer a new preschool program called “Farm Sprouts,” which provides children with opportunities to discover where their food comes from and how it is grown, among other adventures in nature. Seed starting, vermicomposting and hikes will all be included! Michigan’s 4-H Children’s Garden in East Lansing, Michigan, provides children with an opportunity to explore a large variety of plants and offer various programs for families. Visit the links for more information on the sites and programs mentioned or seek out a farm or garden in your area.

The value of building positive relationships amongst local food sources and children are immense and not only benefit the young people involved, but also the outreaching communities and environment since they are all interconnected. For young children, it is these simple explorations in the backyard which can often have powerful and long-lasting impact throughout their lifetime and those to come.

For more information about early childhood education and other topics, visit the MSU Extension website. 

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